Jan. 13, 2011
University of Iowa Ice Hawks have a hunger for hockey
An athlete’s competitive appetite is a hunger only sated by championship success. Fittingly, the current home of the University of Iowa Ice Hawks club hockey program is located in the Coral Ridge Ice Arena, across from the food court in the Coral Ridge Mall.
But the unusual home isn’t the only thing that makes the Ice Hawks unique.
Beginning in 1974 as a small independent hockey squad, the student-run program has evolved into one of the fastest-rising club programs in the Midwest. It is one of the largest UI Recreational Services clubs out of 43 on campus, with more than 50 students involved in either an administrative role or playing on the hockey team.
Due to the growth, the program recently divided its players into two separate divisions -— D-II and D-III. An easy way to distinguish one squad from the other is to describe them as the varsity and the junior varsity. The D-II team is a higher caliber team consisting of mostly upperclassman. The D-III team is full of players seeking to fulfill their potential.
Junior co-captain and defensemen David Goldsmith, who also is the program’s marketing director, said the students’ dedication to and interest in the club has led to a competitive program.
“Since the time I first arrived, an increased interest in our hockey team has been evident,” the Ohio native said. “It has been a snowball effect, with more inquiries occurring every passing calendar day. The rosters are building and the attention is accumulating.”
First-year Iowa D-II Head Coach Matt Johnson said the Ice Hawks growth on and off the ice has been sensational.
“This is my third year here coaching in some capacity and I’m seeing great promise,” Johnson said. “We are coming off back-to-back conference championships, and interested prospective players are consistently contacting us for the opportunity to hit the ice as a Hawkeye. I see a growing hunger to win when I look into the eyes of these athletes.”
The Ice Hawks are now generating more goals, duping more defenders and penetrating more defensive schemes during power plays with greater ease. In 2009, the squad ended its season ranked seventh in the final American Collegiate Hockey Association Central Region standings, its highest ranking ever.
Goldsmith said the Ice Hawks growth is impressive, considering the lack of promotional resources at their disposal. Besides posters highlighting their schedule, the Ice Hawks have recently created an official team website (http://www.hawkeyeshockey.com).
“We are just now tapping into obtaining corporate sponsorships, so besides our website, promotion has been based on word-of-mouth by the players,” Goldsmith said. “Our club’s rise is no fluke, though; hockey’s popularity locally is increasing, as evidenced by the five United States Hockey League teams in the state.”
The Ice Hawks usually play games every weekend from September through February excluding holidays. Although enduring a difficult year for the D-II Ice Hawks squad (5-12) the team has won four of its last five games. The next home matches are Jan. 21 (D-III) and Jan. 27 (D-II).
Twice weekly, practices are held where the Ice Hawks sharpen their skating skills, strain to improve their stick handling abilities, and strive to perform proficient one-timer goals in preparation for a future opponent.
“We recognize these are student athletes, so we ensure they have enough time to focus on their studies,” Johnson said. “Nevertheless, it is difficult to run a club sport, especially one of this size. It is primarily student-run, so the hourly commitment is substantial.”
Despite limited financial resources, the players are resilient and determined to continue developing the program’s evolution. Unable to always afford bus drivers, players on the team tend to rotate driving duties on road trips. Once on the team, each player must be authorized to drive UI vehicles.
Junior assistant captain and forward Rollie Opalacz, who is also the D-II squad’s leading goal scorer, said the extra workload the students take on is not an issue. It is for the betterment of the team, so everyone pitches in.
“I think all the hours we put into the program helps our performance because it builds our camaraderie,” Opalacz said. “These other obligations do not dictate how we perform on the ice -— we keep administrative stuff separate from the locker room.”
With the continual growth, the Ice Hawks hope to one day leave the mall ice rink and have their own arena to call home.
“Opponents attempt to make fun of the mall, but it is our home and it feeds our desire to win,” Goldsmith said. “Whether home or away, in a mall or in a hockey arena, we will continue to put that Hawkeye jersey on because of the pride that goes into representing Iowa.”
For more information on the Ice Hawks, including a schedule and statistics, see http://www.hawkeyeshockey.com.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500
MEDIA CONTACTS: David Goldsmith, Ice Hawks, 216-570-2388, firstname.lastname@example.org; Writer: Travis Varner