Hockey is one of the four major American sports. It is also extremely popular within the Northeast. So why then is the fan base lacking for the Villanova IceCats Hockey team?
Many start with the fact that the hockey team is only a club team. And while those people are correct, they fail to realize that, not only are the IceCats the highest level of hockey at Villanova, but also play at the Division 1 club level of hockey.
They participate in the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association, one of the best conferences across D1 club hockey. They were once a NCAA team, but due to the cost of the team and need for scholarships for women’s teams they were forced to move the team to the club level.
After struggling last season and going 9-18-2 under first-year Head Coach Lou Piccione, the IceCats are primed for a big run this season.
“This team has challenged themselves,” Piccione says. “They want to build on their playoff appearance from last year, win the ECHA and hopefully get an invitation to nationals.”
The players and coaches not only battle on the ice, but some may say half their fight is off it. There are no scholarships, no chance of going pro, their rink for games and practices is 40 minutes from campus and on top of all that the team member pays to play the game. These men play for the love of the game. Each year, just making the team is not enough. It costs each player $2,000 in expenses for the team.
They also use all their own equipment, so if they break a stick, the replacement is coming out of their pocket. Next is the fact tthe team has to commute almost an hour and a half just to get to practice and games.
So, when they have their two weekly 9:30 p.m. practices they’re leaving around eight and not getting back until well after midnight.
The one bright spot in all this is that Piccione just signed a three-year deal with the Hatfield Ice Arena to be Villanova’s official home rink. The facility is quite a spectacle. It has two rinks with ample seating, merchandise pavilion, full snack bar, countless banners and trophies throughout. It is the junior hockey mecca of Pennsylvania.
To sweeten the pot for the IceCats, Hatfield Ice built them their own personal locker room. In previous years, the players would have to schlep their behemoth hockey bags to and from every practice and game, but now can keep their equipment safely stored at the rink each night.
It is not only a struggle for the players, but the coaches as well. The five coaches on the roster all have careers outside of coaching the team and do what they do because they love the game.“We’re more or less volunteers here,” Piccione says. “I love working these guys…they’re very motivated, intelligent, easy to coach and we’re all here because we love the game and that’s why it’s so much fun.”
Now that everything is in place for a successful season, the only thing missing is the fans. Piccione realizes that the distance makes it tough for the students and locals to come out and support the team, but is doing everything in his power to change that.
“We’re going to get buses so the students are able to come to the games,” Piccione says. “Once the students see the level of play and us playing well they will want to come back.”
The team has also decided to play more schools that the fans would want to see.
The schedule includes City 6 rivals St. Joe’s, Temple, La Salle and Drexel. Also, featured this season are Lehigh, Towson and West Chester.
The team plans on sending buses to as many of the 10 home games as possible, including tomorrow night’s game against Lehigh and the two games at St. Joe’s at the Haverford Skatium, just minutes from school.
It was raucous to say the least for the home opener last week versus Temple. The seats were about packed to capacity and about a hundred more fans lined the glass around the ice.
And although ’Nova went on to lose a close one, 4-3, the level of play was hard to beat. They were flying up the ice, making skilled passes, laying out the Temple forwards and scoring goals. What more can you ask?
“If you get a chance to come out, I think you’ll be surprised,” Piccione says. “You’ll see how fun and exciting this is and every student who has tried it has come back…come out and support your fellow students. Hope to see you there.”