The chemistry on the men’s hockey team shows on and off the ice
Sports | Jared Nelson for The Clarion
The members of the men's hockey team wear matching bracelets that state "Better Together" as a symbol of their brotherhood. | Photo for The Clarion by Drea Chalmers
Whether they’re chatting it up in the Brushaber Commons, attending chapel or enjoying a meal in the Dining Center, the men’s hockey team is always together.
As the Royals (7-14, 7-7 MIAC) approach the last leg of the season, they will rely on their remarkable off-ice brotherhood to improve their on-ice play.
Senior captain Jon Crouse said the team’s chemistry is important to its performance, but it’s not something that comes easily. In fact, it’s developed well before the puck is dropped.
“At the beginning of the [school year], we like to set up some activities on the weekends for team bonding,” Crouse said. “We usually grill out at the football games or go to a few volleyball games when we can.”
This is especially beneficial for first-year players who need to gel with the returning players before they hit the ice together.
The team’s time spent together only increases as the season progresses. The Royals have weekly off-campus meals and look forward to “tapping it up” during practices before game weekends, where they tap helmets with one another in preparation for the upcoming contests. Team devotions and prayer connect the players on a spiritual level as well.
Freshman wing Josh Freitas has been playing hockey his entire life, but he has never belonged to a team as close-knit as the Royals.
Freitas said he never expected the team’s bond to become so strong in such a short amount of time, and he gives much of the credit to the veteran players and coaching staff.
“I think we have a special group of guys this year with a great group of veteran players who know how to lead the team,” Freitas said.
“Good chemistry starts with great coaching and the example that [head coach Charlie] Burggraf sets, being a man of Christ, is huge.”
Freitas credits the older players with successfully welcoming the newcomers, but the level of admiration that the veterans have for the freshmen is even more remarkable. Crouse said the key to a bond of brotherhood lies with those who are new to it.
“I give the majority of the credit to the freshmen that have come in this year,” Crouse said. “Each year you have returning guys that have become close, but there are times when the newcomers don’t really fit in well. This year, however, our team has been great and everyone gets along very well.”
Crouse and Freitas both noted that the team’s connection is remarkable because the players come from such diverse backgrounds. Thirteen different states – from Vermont and Connecticut to California and Alaska – are represented on this year’s roster.
Although the players’ strong relationships are valuable off the ice, they know that their main goal right now is to improve their quality of play. Crouse equated working on the hockey team to working on a school project.
“If you don’t particularly like someone outside of class and you get paired with them for a project, you probably won’t have fun with the project, and it won't be very successful,” he said. “A team’s chemistry can carry a team, because guys are positive influences on one another, which results in positivity for the team.”
Freitas said he cherishes the opportunity to play hockey at the collegiate level with teammates who have become brothers.
“I love being a part of the hockey team,” Freitas said. “Not just because I get to play the sport I love, but because I can be surrounded by a bunch of great guys.”