For many a player, the decision to hit the ice comes at a young age. While the memory of lacing your skates for the first time is one that remains with you throughout your playing career; the thought of never lacing up your skates again in a game setting is one not welcomed and possibly feared by many.
A player plays through the levels, through middle school, possibly onto high school and then the last game of your senior year is upon you. No matter how passionate you are for the game, it doesn’t guarantee you a slot on a collegiate or professional roster. If your last name won’t appear on an NHL jersey, that doesn’t mean you need to give up your playing career entirely either.
In skates club hockey, an often overlooked opportunity for players to continue playing in a competitive setting. Boston University senior Nick Kontos joined the club team as a freshman, skating and loving club hockey for four seasons. Those four seasons have earned him the respect of his teammates on the ice as he currently serves as captain; but also a hands on experience from the management side of the locker room. Nick kindly took the time to share with us the benefits of pursuing club hockey and how it enhanced his collegiate experience.
Inside Hockey: You’re the Captain for the BU club team, being captain is quite the responsibility. What is the best thing about wearing the “C” and representing BU?
Nick Kontos: The profile pictures, and the new nickname “Captain K”.
Inside Hockey: For those that are unfamiliar, what is ‘club hockey’?
NK: Club hockey is a student funded organization. The school will chip in a little, but for the most part it is funded by player’s dues. The team is composed of a president, vice president, treasurer and secretary who run the team. The coach is hired by the players and paid through player dues. The school has the right to disallow an unqualified coaching hire but for the most part they just act as an intermediary. It is important to note that the BU Club Ice Hockey team is not the JV team. We are not run through the athletics office. We are under the jurisdiction of club sports which is a separate entity. We are run more similarly to the chess club than a varsity team in the way which the organization is student run with an adviser for support. The players run the back end organization rather than coaches and staff.
Inside Hockey: Many people don’t see it as a “real league”, what would you say to dispel those thoughts?
NK: Not considering club hockey a real league would be saying the same thing as local junior leagues such as the AJHL, EJHL, or EMJHL are not leagues because the talent is not up to par with the Q or the USHL- it would be like saying Division 3 leagues aren’t real leagues. Many teams are very competitive and play 30 games a season, due to BU rules we are only allowed to play 20. The American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) is the governing body of club hockey (comparable to the NCAA), under that we are part of the North East College Hockey Association (NECHA). The league we play in under the NECHA is the Patriot East which consists of Boston University, Boston College, UConn Amherst, Endicott, Northeastern, and Bryant. It is one of the strongest D2 club hockey leagues in the country, and last year Northeastern went onto compete at nationals.
Inside Hockey: What are the general requirements to join the team? Does the majority of your players have a strong hockey background?
NK: Everyone on the team tried out and made the team. We get about 30-40 kids who try out for the team each year so you have to be a good player to make the cut. We are a competitive hockey team, not an intramural sport that anyone can join.
Inside Hockey: What type of commitment does it entail and how would you describe the level of competition?
NK: The competition level varies by league. Obviously D3 club isn’t as competitive as D1 Club, we compete in division 2. Within D2 you can encounter teams that perform at high school level or teams that compete at a level closer to a NCAA division 3 varsity program. As a club team we like to play most of our games against the elite club teams in the northeast, unfortunately our record shows that. We practice twice a week at off campus locations, Tuesday night 10pm-1130 and Wednesday 9pm-10pm. It’s annoying that BU has two rinks on campus and we can’t get a quality ice time on campus, rather we have to spend our $220+ per practice out of our dues for ice time. But most club teams have to deal with the issue, that’s just the way it is. It’s frustrating when we have to play a 9:00pm game because intramural broomball has a better ice slot than we do.
Inside Hockey: What aspects of club hockey have you found to be beneficial? Both on and off the ice?
NK: Club hockey has helped me find my place on campus. For a freshman coming from a small high school and then coming to BU with 1600 undergrads it can be pretty daunting. Making the club hockey team is finding a community of friends and making the campus seem like a smaller place. It’s like joining a fraternity but better because there’s no pledging process once they get through tryouts. For me I learned a lot this year by serving as vice president. I had to deal with administration, warrior sales people for apparel and equipment, custom crafted to get jerseys, peter pan for our coach buses to away games etc. It has really taught me how to manage people and that sometimes things in real life won’t go the way you plan, because of a rule or a guideline that you didn’t know about or some other external factor. You just need to roll with the punches. It’s a tough leadership role and it was made especially hard because we were not handed any guidelines from the previous leaders. The other captain and I have decided to write-up a step by step guide for the next leaders to follow, so the transition will be easier. This will allow us to play by administrations rules and not have to wait half the year to get our Red Jerseys.
Inside Hockey: What can fans expect when taking in a club hockey game?
NK: An empty stadium except for a few family members, girlfriends or close friends. It’s free admission and you can sneak your own 6-pack in, so I don’t see why more people don’t want to watch a quality game. We’re hoping that we’ll get a good crowd for our senior night like we did last year. This is the one game I can guilt all my friends to come to because it’s my last.
Inside Hockey: What is your most memorable playing experience thus far?
NK: Before we became affiliated with Boston University we were called Boston Red Dogs, and we acted as the unofficial club team of Boston University. We weren’t allowed to join a league or go to playoffs because we weren’t affiliated. That meant that all of our games were just exhibitions by whoever would agree to play us (a lot of teams refused). We weren’t in a league and we took yellow school buses to the away games, so we saved money each year for a big trip. My sophomore season we flew down to Kentucky to play UK for two games. Kentucky was a great experience because they played all their games at midnight and they packed the barn with liquored up, screaming fans. Yes, it is actually a hockey rink inside a barn. Even though we were called the Red Dogs we were still BU to every team we played. Because we were BU and such a big hockey school this was UK’s game of the year and they really packed the house and got loud. It was an incredible atmosphere for two nights in a row and we play two very tight games.