Introducing a club sport to a university can cause growing pains almost instantly. The Texas State club hockey team felt those pains in its first season last year, but what emerged was the motivation to make everything about it better.
The Bobcats have started the season with a pair of competitive, season-opening games against one of the top club hockey teams in Texas: the Aggies of College Station. The Texas State team still practices and plays its home games in Austin, but there has been continuous positive reinforcement for the second-year program.
“I think we are better in almost every aspect of the game this year,” said Team Captain Casey Savage. “We have more talent, size, commitment and just an overall better-focused winning attitude. The hockey ‘systems’ we are learning are some of the same ones used by NHL teams today.”
There is a new coach pacing the players’ box: Bob Smith, who brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the Bobcat hockey team. In 2003, Smith earned his Master Coach Level 5 certification from USA Hockey. It is the highest certification possible.
“(Smith’s) coaching style in practice mixed with the systems that (he) has introduced to the team have made a difference,” said club president TJ Wolling. “(Smith) has put a lot of time and effort into this team. (He) has communicated with the Austin and San Antonio rinks to get us good ice time.”
Smith helped build and establish the University of Texas hockey program, which has become a successful organization in the state of Texas. He formed connections with the American Club Hockey Association by helping his former club.
“We want our opponents to respect the Texas State program regardless of the outcome on the scoreboard because we play well and show respect to them, and the game itself in everything we do,” Smith said. “Our goal is to earn our peers’ and academic community's identification for being a ‘class act’ worthy of admiration and support.”
The team had struggles in its first season, but the Bobcats return with a majority of players from last season’s roster, which helps with chemistry. The team then added five new freshmen who all have experience before their time at Texas State. The team would like to add 5-10 more players to its roster.
When starting a club from scratch, the participation in games can sometimes be the easy part. The club process as a whole can be eye opening, something that needs be learned and understood.
The Bobcats were able to address weaknesses from last year and improve on them after using the first season to get their feet wet in club sports.
“(Last season) we felt like we accomplished a lot just from the fact that we were a part of the first hockey team at Texas State,” Savage said. “This year, we are determined to win many games and be competitive with other teams throughout the state and country.”
Even with all of the advancements, there is still some room for further fine-tuning on all fronts. There are prestigious and traditional hockey club powers hours away from Texas State (Texas A&M and Texas), so the Bobcats can start by stealing a few victories from their counterparts.
“I know we have enough talent and determination to beat any of the Texas teams we play this year,” Savage said.
Texas State fell to Texas 5-4, despite taking a 2-0 lead last weekend. Its next game is at the Northwoods Ice Center Sept. 29 in San Antonio against UTSA.
The Bobcats are continuing to make their presence known not only in hockey circles but also on campus. The first game of this season featured more fans than any of the previous face-offs in their last, but the team feels the crowds still have room for growth. The officers created a Facebook group from which they will send out game invitations to members.
“We’d like to get the students, faculty and supporters of Texas State behind us,” Wolling said. “Fans are everything to an up-and-coming sports team like us. Supporting our team is the perfect excuse to come get loud, get rowdy, bang on the glass and cheer us on.”
The club will be competing the weekend of Oct. 5 in the ACHA Showcase in Washington, D.C.
Follow Jordan Brewer on Twitter @jbrewer32