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Wildcat Watch: Ice Hockey Building Momentum on Campus

Courtesy of Zoe Garrett
Villanova women’s ice hockey is 13-2-2 on the season.

At one point or another while going to school at Villanova, most sports fans reach a common question: “Why doesn’t Villanova have an ice hockey team?”

To answer this, it is important to note that Villanova does have a hockey team. Two, actually. However, Villanova’s men’s and women’s ice hockey teams are considered club teams, and therefore are not part of the advertised 24 varsity sports.

In reality, this is a common theme for most schools across the country, as the NCAA features 253 varsity ice hockey teams that are mainly located in the upper northeast and Midwest regions. In comparison, in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, where club teams compete, there are more than 450 ice hockey programs.

As for whether the Villanova Club Ice Hockey teams feel left out of their non-NCAA status, some athletes say they enjoy being club teams rather than varsity. 

“I think we all love that we’re a club team,” WICE Co-President and forward Austen Elvekrog said. “We love that we get to play competitively the sport that we love, but that this is not our entire life. We like having other outlets and experiences at Villanova.” 

Rather than fighting to move up to that level, athletes want to break the stigma surrounding playing at the club level. 

“In terms of growing the team, I think we’re all pretty comfortable with our schedule right now,” WICE Co-President and forward MK Rusnock said. “We all balance a lot of things. A lot of these girls on the team are so talented that they could have been in a D-3, maybe even D-1 situation. But that’s not really the lifestyle that we wanted. So, we think club sports are like the hack to being an athlete and not letting that part of yourself go as an athlete, but still being a college student at the same time.”

As of now, the women’s team plays in the D-2 Delaware Valley College Hockey Conference (DVCHC) division, where it is ranked number one in the southeast region, with a 13-2-2 record.

Leading the team in scoring and assists this season is sophomore forward Camryn Browne, so far with 22 goals and 16 assists. Freshman forward Elise Payne, the second leading scorer, proves how underclassmen are making their mark. Payne has already picked up 20 goals and 12 assists on the season. 

In its last home game of the season on Sunday, the team defeated Wake Forest University 6-1. This upcoming weekend, the Wildcats are looking to make history as it goes into the playoffs. 

Seniors Rusnock and Elvekrog have recent and future hopes for the team this upcoming weekend.

“I’m hoping that we consistently stay number one,” Rusnock said. “We’ve never won the cup for our division, and that’s our goal this upcoming weekend. In our division, Navy and the University of Delaware are the big teams that always win. They don’t take us seriously because we’ve only been number one last year and we lost to them in triple overtime.”

The seniors expect the program to continue to grow in the months after they graduate from Villanova.

“The plan and hope are that we’ve created a strong program that we rebuilt after COVID in the hopes that that would continue,” Elvekrog said. “And I don’t have any reason to believe that it wouldn’t. We have quite a talented group of girls and only four seniors graduating.”

As of now, the men’s club ice hockey team competes at the D-1 level in the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association (ECHA) division, where it sits fifth out of eight in the rankings, going 15-9 so far this season. 

Senior forward Matt Arena leads the team in scoring and assists this season with 15 goals and 17 assists. 

The closest player to Arena’s tally is freshman forward Jonathan Nawrocki, who has secured 11 goals and 11 assists. Among defensemen, junior Liam Tomczak has the most goals at 15 and ties Nawrocki in the most assists on the team. 

Although the team’s next game is on Feb. 23 against Lehigh, the men will have to travel 30 minutes away to West Chester to play their 3:30 p.m. game at Ice Line Area.

Facilities are one of the biggest challenges for both the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams.

“I think obviously we would love a closer arena,” Elvekrog said. “I know there’s a new arena being built, I believe in Conshohocken, and that club sports, and our coaches have been in contact with them and there’s hopes that in the future that could be our home rink.”

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