By Caleb Vierkant
The shrill scream of a whistle, the crack of a hockey stick against the puck, the swishing of blades over ice, cheers and taunts from the crowd. Hockey is a loud, fast-paced sport that attracts fans across the globe. When people think of the sport, though, they usually don’t think of Texas. However, Texas A&M University has an ice hockey team that plays right here in Bryan College Station.
The team’s history stretches back to the ‘80s. According to the team’s website, Texas A&M’s first hockey team was formed in 1982 by a group of students who played for fun instead of sport. Once these students graduated, though, the team disappeared. Hockey was revived in Aggieland in 1997. A new group of students put the team together and began competing with other universities. In 2001, Texas A&M Ice Hockey became an officially recognized club sport. The biggest issue facing the team in those days was lacking a place to practice. The nearest ice rink was more than 100 miles away. This was corrected in 2005 when the Arctic Wolf Ice Center was built. Now known as Spirit Ice Arena, it has been the hockey team’s home ever since.
Sophomore biomedical science major Gary Russell joined the hockey team last fall, and plans to play until graduation. Russell plays in the forward position, working with two other forwards to score points. He is also an assistant captain, an elected position that requires titleholders to speak with referees on behalf of the team and also helps the coaches relay information to the rest of the team. On top of that, he is a vice president of the hockey team. His primary job with this position is to handle the team’s away games: booking hotels, renting cars, and getting forms approved by Rec Sports, among many other things.
“We’re a really talented team,” says Russell. “We’ve got a lot of good players, and I think we’ve all started to mesh and gel together.”
Texas A&M Ice Hockey is a Division II team in the ACHA West region. The team works hard to always improve. They practice at Spirit Ice Arena on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 10:30 p.m. Before even hitting the ice, they watch videos of themselves and other teams to see what needs improvement and where the opponents’ weaknesses are.
Preparation for Texas A&M Ice Hockey’s season begins in late August, with a training camp, recruitment of new players, and lots of practice. The regular season begins in September and lasts until mid-February. Regionals stretch into late February and early March.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” says Russell. “We have our work cut out for us. Realistically, I think that with the skill our team has and how we’ve progressed so far this season, I feel we can make it into regionals, which is something the team hasn’t done for the past few seasons. It’s a goal for the team every year.”
The hockey team is in the middle of its 2016 season. Their next home games are during a tournament hosted at Spirit Ice Arena Jan. 13-15. In February, they will face off against traditional rivals the University of Texas.
Russell says football is obviously a much more important and popular sport for both the university and the region, but hockey is something special. People who come to a game, whether a fan or not, find it more fun than they originally expect. The game is fun, the crowd is rowdy, and it is a good time for all involved.
“The best thing about the team is being a part of a group of guys that not only support you but become your core group of friends,” says Russell. “Besides that, putting on the jersey and representing your own school is also a huge thing. Being able to play against other teams, especially against an old school rival like Texas, is second to none.”
Fans of hockey, or those wanting to learn more about the sport, should visit the team’s website at tamuicehockey.com. The team can also be found on social media. Their Twitter handle is @tamuicehockey. Ticket information, scheduling, and team information can be found online.