The NC State men’s club hockey team is one of the most successful club sports programs on campus.
Last year, it went all the way to the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 2 Nationals, after winning its way through the Atlantic Coast Conference Hockey League finals and the ACHA’s D2 Southeast regionals.
Not only that, but the Wolfpack hockey team also had an undefeated season all the way to nationals, going 25-0 in the regular season, and finishing with an overall record of 28-2-0.
“Anytime you have a 25-0 season, that’s definitely something to be proud of, but it does make you a marked target now,” said senior club president Ian O’Rourke. “I know a lot of teams, especially like Virginia and Wake Forest, teams we faced in the ACCHL championships will definitely be gunning for us. It’s up to us to take the success we had last year and build on that and keep going forward with the group we have this year.”
The team will be playing a harder regular season schedule this year as opposed to the more local-focused schedule it had last year. The Wolfpack will be playing in the Liberty Showcase against teams like University of Massachusetts Lowell, Metropolitan State University of Denver and Liberty University, all high-caliber teams, early on in its schedule.
“The schedule was one of the takeaways from last year's season,” O’Rourke said. “Obviously it was pretty successful, but like our overall strength of schedule was not as good as some of the teams we met in regionals and nationals. So we wanted to definitely beef that up and schedule some tougher opponents.”
The scheduling isn’t the only change for the Pack either, as the club introduced 10 new faces to the roster. Losing captain Sam Banasiewitz and starting goaltender Joey Hall, NC State will need to work to rebuild its identity after losing such crucial pieces. Starting that off is the promotion to captain for senior Ryan Kinney, who was an alternate captain last year.
“It’s a big honor to be captain,” Kinney said. “I’m excited about it, my family is excited about it, my friends too, but I think being a captain, your goal really is to bring out the best in everyone else. I don’t think that I’m the only person that is supposed to be talking or that people should be listening to. It’s a team effort. It’s a team sport. Everyone should be stepping up, giving it their best, and I should be an example for them to do that.”
Kinney is ready to take on his new role with the team and confident not only in the talent he saw from the new class but also in the ability of the team that was with him last year. The team saw the return of 16 of last season’s players along with the same coaching staff led by head coach Mike Gazillo.
“We have that experience, we know what it takes,” Kinney said. “With these 10 new guys, it's kind of a challenge because you have to show them that the teams we play locally, it gets harder when you get to regionals, when you get to nationals, to the championship. It gets harder, but we need to get all the new guys integrated and build that chemistry back up again as you have to do every year. Once we do that, I think we will be a step above.”
While the Wolfpack will only play eight of its 23 regular season games at home this year, the team hopes to see a big fan turnout to them.
The hockey club plays the majority of its home games at the Raleigh IcePlex, but will also play a select few in PNC Arena, home of NC State men’s basketball team and the Carolina Hurricanes. Those will be the two games against school rival UNC-Chapel Hill, dubbed the “Backyard Brawl.”
Last year saw NC State beat UNC three times at PNC Arena by a combined score of 21-6 in front of huge crowd turnouts that filled over half of the lower bowl. Fans can expect a rowdy and fun environment if choosing to take part in the always hyped-up event.
NC State’s first game is an away game against Duke on Saturday, Sept. 21, but the Wolfpack will play its first home game Friday, Sept. 27 against ECU at 9:30 p.m. at Raleigh IcePlex.