Hockey / Not just a club: Nebraska men’s hockey team shoots for win at nationals

Not just a club: Nebraska men’s hockey team shoots for win at nationals

Date:  Source: ACHA Nationals

By Elic Chisam | The Daily Nebraskan

The word “club” may be in the name, but Nebraska men’s hockey club head coach Larry Taylor said he doesn’t think the word fits his team.

He’s always called it the Nebraska men’s hockey program.

“If you call it a club, people will say, ‘Oh it’s just a club,’ and turn some people off,” Taylor said. “If you say, ‘Nebraska men’s hockey program,’ it sounds more like a team and that fits us better.”

Now in his 13th season, with over 200 career wins, Taylor spent his Monday night preparing for practice and developing a strategy for the team’s first appearance at the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division III National Tournament.

“I’ve been doing this a long time now and have had many teams make the regional tournament, but it’s just been heartbreak after heartbreak so this is special for sure,” Taylor said.

Goaltender Luke Thompson said it was not just a goal, but an expectation among the players that they make the national tournament this season.

“If we didn’t make the tournament this season, it would’ve been a disappointment,” Thompson said. “We felt like the underdogs all year. Like no one else thought of us as contenders. We knew we could do it.”

According to goaltender coach Tim Miller, there are 152 teams in Division III of the ACHA. Of those 152, only 16 teams make the national tournament. To clinch their spot, the Huskers defeated Northern Arizona and Wisconsin-Milwaukee by a combined score of 17-4 at the Pacific Regional ACHA tournament. Both games were played at the John Breslow Ice Hockey Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska faced several challenges to get to this point. The team had to replace its top six scorers from last season. Miller credited Taylor for coaching new players to step in.

“When you lose that much offense in one year and have to rebuild, but then do as well as we have done this year, it only speaks to the great head coaching that we have,” Miller said.

Taylor said one of the moments he realized this team had a real chance of making nationals was when they began defeating teams in Division II, which is a tier above the Huskers’ Division III. He said the turning point was when Nebraska took on Division II member Iowa State in a weekend series in January.

“We went up [to Iowa State] on a Friday night, and they pretty much took it to us all night,” Taylor said. “The next night in Lincoln, I told them, ‘You guys are better than this,’ and we outplayed them for all three periods and won 3-2. That’s when I thought we could do this.”  

Nebraska’s win over Iowa State was just one of many so far this season. The Huskers head into the national tournament with a 30-8 record and a 12-game win streak.

A victory that doesn’t count toward the win-loss record is the over $6,000 the team raised on their annual Cancer Awareness night on Feb 4. The team wore special jerseys for the game, and ESPN anchor John Buccigross wore one on SportsCenter.

According to Thompson, who also helps run the team’s social media accounts, the game drew the largest attendance mark of the season with over a thousand fans.  

“We’ve had good support from fans, and even the Iron N has supported us some,” Thompson said. “Even on social media, we see people say, ‘We can’t wait to come back,’ as they’re leaving their first game.”  

The Huskers can draw crowds of that size because of the facility they play in, the John Breslow Ice Hockey Center. According to Miller, before the facility opened on Dec. 15, 2015, the team had to practice at the Ice Box in Fremont, Nebraska, nearly an hour away. Miller said the new building helped the team tremendously.

“This is a great rink for practice and playing,” Miller said. “We have the facilities now, they’re a lot better than they were even just a couple of years ago when we were living out of the Ice Box.”

Now the team looks ahead toward the national tournament. The team is guaranteed to play at least three games because of how the tournament is set up. The 16 teams are put in four, four-team pools. Every team faces off against one another in their pool. If Nebraska comes out on top, it moves on.

Taylor said it will take everything the team has to make a run at the tournament.

“The teams we’re going up against are the ones who consistently make it this far,” Taylor said. “We’re fighting a hard battle, but this is a special team and they’re not happy just being there.”

Nebraska begins the tournament against the University of Georgia at 2:30 p.m. CST on Tuesday, March 13. The Huskers then take on Farmingdale State at 5:30 p.m. CST on March 14 and Oakland University at 11:00 a.m. CST on March 15. All games will be played in Columbus, Ohio.

 

This article was posted on March 9, 2018. Original article source: http://www.dailynebraskan.com/sports/not-just-a-club-nebraska-men-s-hockey-team-shoots/article_5d1e0c82-2339-11e8-9614-cb1a97f3100c.html