Wittenberg University’s men’s hockey team finished with a pair of losses at the Collegiate Ice Hockey Association national championships this past weekend.
In retrospect, the Tigers hope that ending was instead the beginning of something greater.
The Tigers, who play as a club team, capped a 10-3-2 regular season and won the Buckeye Division of the CIHA. That they did it with a limited roster is something the Tigers plan to address in the off-season.
“It says a lot about a short-handed bench and the quality of hockey players that are students at Wittenberg,” first-year coach Adam Frantz said. “Going forward we have a few prospects and recruits.”
Their recent credentials should help draw interest. So should their home ice.
Wittenberg plays at the new National Trail Parks and Recreation Department (NTPRD) Chiller on Main Street. The facility means the players don’t have to drive to Kettering for practices or games. The players even have their own dressing room, though it’s still in the process of being furnished. Frantz said he hopes to have new lockers and benches next season.
“They have been so good to us,” Frantz said. “We really appreciate that and recognize the success of this team is directly tied to the success of that rink. We’re a good thing for them and they’re a good thing for us.”
“Having a rink we can call home has been a huge motivating factor for our team,” said senior and team president Ben Saylor. “The facility is one of the best I personally have ever played in, and the quality of the ice is outstanding. We even have guys showing up to practice early just to get some extra ice time.”
As a club team, the program is student-run. Players are in charge of everything from ordering jerseys, booking ice time, paying officials and arranging transportation. Frantz, who played his college hockey at Florida Southern College, volunteered his time to coach.
“Those students deserve all of the credit. They have done a tremendous job,” Frantz said. “All I do is sort of show up and help facilitate things. The students handle all of the business. I’m just there as a support piece. … I can tell you it’s probably the most organized team Wittenberg has had a in awhile. Support from the school is growing. Support from the community is growing.”
And, Frantz hopes, so is the roster.
The team had 17 players this season. Frantz would like to boost that to at least 20. The team attended the CIHA tournament without two of its better players who also play varsity lacrosse at Wittenberg. Ben Allan, a varsity baseball player at Wittenberg, was allowed to travel with the hockey team to the tournament in Newark, Ohio. Allan is the team’s only full-time goalie.
There have been discussions about hockey becoming a varsity sport but nothing is expected to happen in the next few years.
As for the Tigers, they know exactly where they want to be next year — back playing for a shot at the national championship.
“Getting a chance to play for a national title is a humbling experience,” Saylor said. “Throughout the season we have battled through some tough games, had players ejected, and lost numerous guys to injuries. But ending up as one of the top 10 teams in the nation is something we are very proud of.”