Club Ice Hockey looks for rink, recognition


Ashton Woodruff

Sophomore captain Murphy Sink takes a shot on goal attempt against Eastern Carolina, Jan. 29, 2023.

Andrew Rice, Reporter

Every Wednesday, sophomore exercise science major Luke Miller finds himself in either Greensboro or Winston-Salem until 1 a.m. practicing for App State’s Club Ice Hockey team. 

Miller, who plays center on the team, said he finds the practice schedule for the team “challenging” as he balances it with a class schedule that he is “barely able to get up for.”

“We were practicing at 12:15 in the morning in Greensboro,” Miller said. “I mean we weren’t getting home until four-ish in the morning.” 

With 26 years on the ice and a 6-8-2 record, the team is fighting to make the community aware of their presence and get a closer rink to practice on. 

The men’s ice hockey club team was founded in 1997 and has played in rinks across the state since its inception. 

Without an indoor ice rink in Boone, the team has sought cities with the closest available rinks, like Greensboro and Winston-Salem, for their weekly late-night practices. 

The team practices in Greensboro once a week for the first two months of the season before transitioning to practice in Winston-Salem for the remainder of the season, which ends in late February. 

Beca Devore is a senior communication, advertising major and the co-vice president of the team. 

Junior Vice President Joseph Iorio and teammates head out of the locker rooms to face Eastern Carolina in Greenville, Jan. 28, 2023. (Hayden Wittenborn)

“It’s really tiring,” Devore said. “We all definitely wish there was something closer that we could play earlier.”  

Wyatt Pressley, a senior construction management major, plays at right wing for the team. He said that hearing about the traveling and the weekly practices initially “shook” him.

Devore said the demand for hockey in North Carolina has increased, but the state infrastructure has yet to provide supply for the increased demand.

“There’s not a lot of rinks,” Devore said. “In the western side of North Carolina, they definitely have the ability to have a rink, it’s just that they haven’t caught up yet.”

Despite the challenge, players and staff on the team enjoy the sense of camaraderie they get while bonding on these trips together. 

“If you don’t love hockey, you’re going to burn out from these practices and these weekends,” Miller said. 

Devore said she has felt a bond form on the team because of the schedule after having transferred from a different program in Maryland last year. 

 “It creates a sense of community that I don’t think many other varsity teams get,” Pressley said.

Devore said the beginning of the season can be very anticipatory before the team heads back to Winston-Salem.

“It’s definitely something we look forward to,” Devore said. “The guys are always counting down until we are back in Winston-Salem.”  

Without a rink in the surrounding area, players and staff on the team say they feel like recognition for their program is often missing. They say this missing recognition ends up translating in the treatment of the team by fans and the university. 

“The biggest thing we talk about non-hockey related is probably our campus presence,” Miller said. 

Devore said players on the team are accustomed to peers being surprised by the team’s mere existence at the university. 

“It definitely hurts a little bit that there’s nothing in this area when we think it could be a good spot,” Devore said.

Pressley said the addition of an ice rink in Boone would allow for more staffing positions to be filled so the team would look more established, like some of the other teams they compete with. Pressley mentioned specific aspects of the team like medical personnel and athletic trainers which competitors like High Point and East Carolina University have but App State lacks. 

“We’ve definitely come a long way with how we present ourselves but we still have a lot of work to do,” Pressley said.

As well as lacking medical personnel, players and staff say they feel a lack of fan support when compared to their competitors. 

“We kind of get lucky if we have a significant amount of more than just parents there,” Devore said.

Despite the setbacks, players and staff are taking strides to make the team more recognizable. Through increased social media presence, a refurbished website and big wins in their division, the team hopes to increase their visibility on campus. 

After moving up to the Collegiate Hockey Federation’s Men’s Division II the previous season, the team hopes to gain more recognition as they face off against more familiar universities in the area. 

The Mountaineers play in tournaments consisting of two matches over the course of a weekend. In their first tournament of the season, the Mountaineers tied and then defeated long-time rival Elon. The Mountaineers later defeated Christopher Newport and lost to them the next day.

The Mountaineers then went on to take two sweeping victories against The Citadel. In one of the most prominent wins of the season, the Mountaineers defeated the Duke Blue Devils. 

Later, the Mountaineer men’s team fell to the East Carolina Pirates in both matches of their tournament. The Mountaineers also went on to lose a single-weekend game against Charlotte on Feb. 11. 

Pressley said the team had “no shot in the world” of beating teams like Duke and Elon when he was a freshman. 

“Beating teams like that and actually competing with bigger named schools gets the word out that it’s not a joke,” Pressley said. “It’s serious coming up here to play hockey.”

Pressley also said these kinds of wins will attract more students to the university to play on the team. 

“I think the best thing that’s come out of this season is showing teams that we care and we work hard and we want to win games,” Pressley said. 

In addition, Miller said he hopes these wins will motivate the university or local business owners to consider an ice rink for the area. 

“When you win, you get attention. You get attention, you get things,” Miller said.

In addition to high-profile wins, the team has increased their social media presence with an ever-growing Instagram account boasting more than 2,000 followers. 

Devore said social media interaction, live streams of games and selling merchandise through social media have increased visibility for the team on campus. 

“The more people that know we exist and know about our problem of not having a rink, the better chances we have of getting a rink,” Pressley said. 

The team attributes nearby professional success of the Carolina Hurricanes to the increased attention in the sport and hope they can be part of the attention given towards hockey in the South nowadays. 

“The culture has grown,” Pressley said. “People who had no idea we had a hockey team know now.” 

Moving forward, Devore said she hopes the team will grow through their new means of outreach and see the university as a place where people can play hockey. 

“We hope that getting to play in these cool areas and still live in Boone as an App State student while playing hockey will open up that aspect for people still who want to try,” Devore said.