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Michigan State Club Hockey Players Compete For Love Of Sport; Dedicating Own Time and Money

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Kamen Kessler
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The Spartans have a deep club hockey program and have found national success in the past. Today’s players juggle homework, jobs, and their finances to play at the non-varsity level for MSU.

 

EAST LANSING, Mich. –  Michigan State is known for men’s hockey. The varsity team usually grabs the headlines, with its NHL-prospect players.

But there is another team playing hockey on campus, with the men’s Division 2 club hockey team also competing on a high level. This season, the Spartans club team finished a subpar 6-14 and failed to qualify for the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national tournament.

MSU has won three total national club titles, with last coming in 2013.

Despite the rough season, longtime Coach James Martin is looking to a bright future for the club.

“This year was somewhat challenging, and the team record was not very good,” said Martin, who has coached the MSU club team since 2001. “I was very disappointed in our performance, and I'm sure all the players were disappointed as well. There are several things we will be working on next year to improve our performance and game results. Our major effort will be improving team cohesiveness. Solid chemistry is essential to bind players into a team unit and develop a sense of shared responsibility for results.  

Freshman forward Ben Burns said his experience this season will help him, as he learned how to play at the college club level.

“We really grew as a team,” Burns said. “We always are working hard and pushing each other to be the best. As a freshman, I didn’t put up the numbers I am used to seeing. But now that I am adapted to the pace of the league, I can set new goals for myself and try and grow as a leader for my teammates, so we are once again back competing for titles.”

The team has a long season, starting with a summer conditioning camp. Players arrive on campus to begin training and then come to the team tryouts. The school starts, and hectic practice and game schedules take over.

“The season really never slows down,” Burns said. “I try and get on the ice as much as possible. When the team is together during the offseason, it really allows us to focus in our goals for the program and build a chemistry that will allow us to get better day in and day out so we can win.”

College club hockey is popular, as MSU is one of 53 teams competing in the Central Division of ACHA Division 2.

College club hockey also comes at a cost. Unlike the varsity team, which has its expenses paid for by Michigan State Athletics, Spartan club players must take care of themselves.

This season, it was nearly $2,000 to be part of the team. That money covers the cost for uniform gear, ice time bills, and travel expenses.

For Burns, this is more than just a club hockey team.

“It’s very competitive,” Burns said. “We know we don’t get as much recognition as other places, but we are serious about winning and having a successful program. We knew what we were signing up for when we got here, and we going to stick to what we know and play hockey. I want to win and want to do everything I can to be able to win. Not everything will go as we planned sometimes, but we respond and try and get better because that is just who we are.

During the season, the team faces as much competition from their opponents as its strenuous schedule. The Spartans were on the road for 12 of their 20 games this season. The weekends on the road posed challenges to finish schoolwork, but sophomore forward Jimmy Moore found a way to get everything done.

“Even though we travel quite a bit, I have been able to find the balance between school and hockey,” Moore said. “I played high school sports, I’m used to the long nights and studying after coming back from practice. I want to be able to play and have a good time, but I know that I can’t do that unless I get my work done.”

Martin sees academics as a priority and expects his players to perform at a high level in the classroom and on the ice

“Most of the incoming players I speak with first, ask about practice, game schedules and balance between team and academic responsibilities,” Martin said. “MSU has grown into one of the top academic institutions in the U.S, and this is reflected in the academic abilities of incoming student-athletes. They had excellent academic performance in high school, and they enroll in very challenging academic programs. We share the expectation that they will do well in their academic programs and will go on to successful careers in their chosen field. 

“As a team goal we strive to represent the University well, play competitive games on the ice, and hopefully progress far into the postseason, but there is first and foremost the academic responsibilities. Incoming players also expect to develop their hockey skills, and I think we do a good job at that. I see the players becoming better and faster as they progress in the team.”

The opportunity to keep playing hockey, and representing MSU, is something special for the players.

 

“Win or lose,” Moore said. “The experience of playing hockey for MSU has been an absolute blast. I have learned so much and have developed into a better player. Being a part of this team gives me time away from school, and I’m able to spend it with a group of brothers that I will always remember for the rest of my life.”

 

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