Published March 19, 2019
As March Madness approaches, two UB teams will be vying for national recognition. Were you thinking men’s and women’s club hockey?
Both squads, which fly largely under the radar due to their non-varsity status, capped stellar regular seasons. As a result, both earned a berth in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s (ACHA) national tournament in Frisco, Texas, which starts this week for the men, followed by the women next week.
Fans can watch all the games live via the ACHA National Championships YouTube page.
More than 1,500 players from 72 teams across all five ACHA divisions will converge upon the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area to compete in more than 100 games. The men’s tournament runs from March 21-26, while the women’s is set for March 27-31, both in conjunction with the NHL’s Dallas Stars, which play nearby.
The UB women enter the tournament with a 16-2-1 record as the No. 2 seed in the ACHA Division II East region. It’s their fifth-straight trip to nationals. The team notched its first national tournament victory last year by defeating Liberty University.
“It’s a huge honor for the program, and a great opportunity to get our name out. Not a lot of people know that UB has a women’s ice hockey team,” says club president Megan Pofi, a senior defenseman from Wheatfield who’s played all four years.
By numbers, the women’s team has often had fewer players than much of the competition, especially at nationals. To change that, Pofi made it her mission last year to spread the word about UB women’s hockey. She and some of her teammates tabled at girls hockey state tournaments and other events, bringing with them the playoff trophies they won and the banners they received for advancing to nationals.
“The second we mention that our team makes it to nationals every year, the more interested girls are with attending UB,” said Pofi, a business administration major with a concentration in marketing and data analytics.
The effort paid off, and the team now has a larger roster of talented players. “We are confident this year with our numbers that we can finally push and make it farther in the tournament,” she said.
UB will be looking to bounce back from a 3-2 loss to Liberty in the College Hockey East tournament semifinals held over the weekend. (The loss doesn’t affect UB’s nationals bid.)
UB's Will Stryker and Cameron Leber celebrate a Buffalo goal in a game against the Rochester Institute of Technology earlier this season.
Bulls sophomore Alex Bauer tries to make a play on the puck in a game against RIT earlier this season.
Meanwhile, the men’s team is making its second consecutive appearance in the ACHA Division I tourney. They lost last year to Davenport in their first game. The Bulls have never won a game at nationals since joining the ACHA as a club team in 1989; prior to that, UB hockey was a varsity sport from 1969-87.
Until recently, there weren’t many chances. The men had only been to the tournament once prior to 2015. Since then, they’ve advanced to nationals three times, twice under head coach Jeremy Kersten, who served as an assistant for several seasons before taking over in 2016. UB punched its ticket to Texas by defeating Canisius, 2-1, in the finals of the Northeast Collegiate Hockey League (NECHL) tournament. It’s the second straight year the Bulls have won the NECHL Memorial Cup.
UB is the No. 19 seed and will play No. 14 Missouri State at 1:30 p.m. central time Thursday.
The extension to the season means UB’s seniors get to spend a little extra time together. “They’re the most successful senior class here ever. Back-to-back regular-season and playoff championships, two trips to nationals — no program’s done that before at UB,” says Kersten, who works full time as a business manager in UB’s Center for the Arts.
Cole Schiffman, a senior accounting major and the club team’s president, has played for the Bulls all four years and remembers the caliber of UB teams that played before him. “I’m still friends with a lot of the older guys that were seniors or graduated before I came here, and I know how good their teams were. It’s pretty cool to know we’re the most successful,” Schiffman said. “It’s an honor knowing how good those guys were when we were looking up to them as freshmen. Now, we’re those guys and we’ve got everyone looking up to us.”
For fellow senior Ryall Ledyard, the trip to Dallas will be a homecoming. He was born there when his dad, Grant Ledyard, played with the Dallas Stars in the mid-90s. Grant’s 18-year NHL career included a four-year stint with the Sabres. He’s now serving as an assistant coach with the Bulls.
“I have some friends and family there still, so it’ll be great to see them and have them come watch us play,” Ryall said. “It’s good competition down there and it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.”
For both teams, the trip to Dallas comes with a cost that wasn’t budgeted, and both are paying for flights and other expenses out of pocket due to Student Association restrictions on fundraisers. Individuals and businesses, however, can contribute to help defray costs.
To reach the men’s team, email UBHockeyACHAD1@gmail.com or send a direct message via Twitter to @ub_icehockey. Contact the women’s team at firstname.lastname@example.org or by direct message on Twitter at https://twitter.com/UBWhockey.