By Collin Atwood
Springfield College is the home to many athletes who participate in all sorts of sports. Out of the 2,100 students that attend the College, 34 percent are student-athletes. However, that only includes the athletes that play for one of the 26 varsity Division III teams that Springfield offers, not the students who are involved in the 13 different club sports.
Springfield’s club sports programs are the perfect middle ground between intramurals and varsity sports. Most of the teams have a coach, but the students do a majority of the organizing.
The main difference between varsity and club sports is that club sports are not a part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). However, some club sports do compete in national competitions and tournaments.
One of the more popular club sports at Springfield is the men’s ice hockey team, which has had great success in recent years. They were the Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association (NECHA) Colonial Conference Champions in 2017 and in 2018.
The team is coached by George Johnson G’12 who played hockey during his time at Springfield. Johnson played in 44 games and recorded 10 goals and 12 assists.
After graduating with a sports management degree, Johnson found himself back on Alden Street in 2014 where he became the head coach. The hockey team has changed significantly since Johnson’s playing days, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s pretty much night and day from when I was there. That was more of a fun atmosphere where we kind of treated it like a club sport,” Johnson said.
Johnson went from playing on the team to hanging out with his friends, to competing for playoff spots and championships.
“Now it’s definitely like a varsity sport and we get a lot more recognition. We’ve been able to go to national tournaments, I’ve been lucky enough to coach some all-star teams…things have gone really well for us,” he added.
The progression of this team isn’t just paying off in collegiate tournaments, but also in people’s personal hockey careers. Nate Farrington ’17 and Marc Steele ’19 are now players in the professional hockey league known as The Federal Prospects Hockey League (FPHL).
For a club sport, Springfield’s hockey team has shown exactly what they are capable of. Earning banners, competing in national tournaments and sending players to the pros sounds exactly like what a varsity team would do. The only thing stopping this team from being an official Div. III sport at Springfield is their future success.
The first step in becoming a varsity sport was overcoming obstacles, such as restrictions from Title IX stating that colleges and universities must offer a sport for both sexes if there is enough interest.
That issue was taken care of in 2019 when the women’s ice hockey team was created.
Johnson has had discussions with Springfield College’s President Mary-Beth Cooper and the Athletic Department about getting the hockey team into the NCAA. Due to the recent success, conversations about becoming a varsity team were heating up right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
After their shortened season last year, the men’s ice hockey team is ready to prove that they belong in the NCAA.
“As long as we continue to excel at this level, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t make the jump,” Johnson said.
Casey Cormier, a junior on the hockey team, sees that as a possibility as well.
“We try to run it like we are a real NCAA team. That’s one thing we’re kind of working towards,” Cormier said.
At this point, the future of the team relies on the outcome of each season. Although becoming a varsity team is a goal they have, Johnson and the team are more focused on the season ahead of them. The team played its first two games over the weekend and came out with one win and one loss.
The team’s three main focuses right now are to win the division, conference, and the NECHA tournament.
“We would like to win the NECHA tournament which would give us an automatic bid towards nationals,” Johnson said.
The aspirations for this team have grown dramatically ever since Johnson only joined to play hockey with his friends. Despite the seriousness and intensity the team now brings, the purpose of playing goes all the way back to Johnson’s days: just have fun.
“I think we all have really good relationships with each other and we have a lot of fun and that’s what it’s all about,” Cormier said.
Photo: Gillian Dube/The Student