On his monthly appearance on the Husker Sports Network, Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst threw cold water on the idea of the athletic department starting up a division 1 ice hockey program. The only sport Nebraska has any intention of starting is the new sand volleyball program. That's cold water, not the ice that a hockey program would need. A lot of people had hopes that with Eichorst's background at Wisconsin and the Big Ten's expansion into hockey that the Huskers might join the ranks of the division 1 schools with hockey programs. But that doesn't appear to be in the cards at this time.
That doesn't mean that Husker hockey is just a figment of people's imagination. You might be surprised that it's a very real thing. Yes, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a hockey team. It's not an NCAA program, of course. Rather, it's a club sport, sponsored by the University's recreation department. It's not associated with the athletic department. The university provides the team some practice time at Lincoln's "Ice Box" arena at the former State Fairgrounds, which is the home rink for the USHL's Lincoln Stars. Games are played at the Sidner Ice Arena in Fremont. In 2007, former state auditor John Breslow donated $7 million to build the Breslow Ice Center, but the plans never moved beyond a concept until November, when land just south of Haymarket Park became available for the project. Plans are now to complete the building in 2014, if all of the issues are resolved.
I recently asked head coach Larry Taylor a little bit about the Husker Hockey team. Taylor said it dates back to 1972; current assistant Mark Champion was the captain of that first hockey team. It was a sometimes-on, mostly-off proposition for many years until 2005, when Taylor became coach. Taylor was in his fourth year coaching the Lincoln Junior Stars high school team when some former players asked him for help in getting the team reorganized.
The Husker hockey program joined the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which organizes these non-scholarship hockey teams. They play under NCAA rules, but outside the jurisdiction of the NCAA. In recent years, the Husker Hockey team can claim a few accomplishments to their credit:
- In 2008, the Huskers took 2nd place in the Big 12 Championship
- In 2009, the team joined the N.C.C.H.A. league and moved to Division III in the A.C.H.A. In that year Nebraska were the regular season champions but lost in the championship game to Iowa State
- In 2011, Taylor won his 100th game against Wyoming
- In 2012, the team joined the West Conference/Silver Division of the M.A.C.H.A. league
- Jan 2013 The team took 2nd place in the Big 10 Championship
- This year, Nebraska reached 100 players on the Alumni Roster
- Each year since 2009, the Huskers have qualified for the Pacific Regional Tournament
This weekend, the Husker Hockey team will take on Northern Arizona in the ACHA's Pacific Regional at 4:30 pm Friday afternoon in Springfield, Mo.
Without scholarships or even much support from the University, it's expensive for the players on the team. Taylor estimates that it costs each player $2200 a season to participate. Why do they do it? "That’s easy – for the love of the game!" Taylor says it takes quite a bit of dedication from the players to stay up with school, part-time jobs, and the practice time and travel, but they do it because they want to.
Whether the athletic department starts a hockey program or not is really immaterial to this team (they hate the word "club", even though it's technically accurate). Division 1 hockey would be played at a different level entirely. This team's goal is provide an outlet for players who want to play the sport, but aren't able to do it at that level.