They don’t receive athletic scholarships or any of the other perks of being Division I athletes. Still, they show up for practice several times a week—before the sun rises.
Why? “We really want to be here. We love to play,” says Gavin Evancho, a junior forward on the UB men’s club hockey team, which last year advanced to the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national tournament for the first time in a decade. They played one game, losing to Colorado. “Our goal this year is to win a couple games and make a statement,” says Evancho.
UB has a long history of hockey. The first team formed in 1895, according to University Archives. The program continued on and off through 1969, when it became an official varsity sport. In 1987, the university discontinued hockey, relegating it to club status.
UB’s regular season runs from September until mid-February, with home games at the Northtown Center, the sports complex just across from UB’s North Campus. The team competes in the ACHA Division I’s Northeast Collegiate Hockey League and faces some of the best club teams in the country, as well as regional rivals Niagara, Canisius and Syracuse.
The majority of the players on the current 27-man roster hail from Western New York—and they’re pretty tough. “The phrase ‘club hockey’ is not what people think it is,” says head coach Sal Valvo. “Some of these guys could have played Division I. They chose UB for the academics.”
“We’re gritty and we’re fast,” adds senior defenseman Sean Dungan. “I think we’re in good shape to go to nationals again this March. We play our hearts out every time we’re on the ice.”