Sports are everything at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Memorial Stadium towers over the campus, and Pinnacle Bank Area can be seen shining on the horizon of the campus. Of course, everyone knows about volleyball, football, basketball, and baseball in Nebraska, but most people might not know what other sports are happening around campus, like club hockey.
Freshman club hockey player Zack Brown from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, gave his insight on his first season and the fun stories he made throughout the season. He even opened up and shared how much playing hockey meant to him.
When a kid like Brown grew up playing sports all of his life, the last thing he wanted to do was stop. Especially his favorite sport, hockey.
Brown was unfortunately at a crossroads before his freshman year began. He started coming to terms with his decision not to play hockey when he made his decision to attend the University of Ole Miss.
It did not hit him at first that he was really going to stop playing hockey. Then, after being on campus, he realized his decision was a mistake and went back to a familiar place. A place where his brother and father went before him, Nebraska. He arrived in Lincoln the Thursday before classes.
“Playing hockey in college is a really big important piece of my life because I didn’t want to quit,” Brown said.
Hockey is what makes him happy, so the decision to head to Lincoln was an easy one. He was lucky to have been around the club hockey team before. His brother, who graduated in 2019, was a former player. Despite this, he was all on his own to make connections with his future teammates. He did not have to worry because he would fit right in with his teammates.
Moving into the season, Brown had heard stories about the league (Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association). He called league play “a wreck-fest with physical fights and battles.”
This heads-up was proven right when he played his first game. He was caught off guard by the skill level of the team he was playing against. He played defense because he felt that was the best fit for his style. Also, he loves protecting his goalie.
Brown and his teammates were eager to hit the ground running after they won their first four games. This team seemed to be a lot more skilled than in previous years when they had been going to nationals consistently. The bar was also set high with their hot start.
“The way they [the team] played in those games gave the returners a boost in confidence,” Brown said in reference to the first few games.
Going back to his high school hockey days, Brown did not experience much success, so winning in college was a little new to him. He also pointed out that this season was the closest he had ever been with players on a team. It helped that some of the returning players had played with his brother before. Even when things were not easy, he could fall back on his teammates. The comradery this team shared could not be replicated.
“Even if you were a scratch, we always had so much fun in the locker room. Between periods they’d come in and hype us up,” Brown said.
Part of the challenges he experienced was extensive traveling. The hockey team traveled all the way to Lawrence, Kansas; Sioux Center, Iowa; and to the Miami University of Ohio, which is a distant 11 hours from Lincoln. It was a two-day bus trip with a stop in Champaign. These trips may have been long and exhausting, but Brown highlighted a funny moment when the team made a stop at a gas station.
“I picked up one of those rubber pigs and brought it on the bus. Everyone named it Oinky. Some bad things happened to Oinky, and he’s now missing,” Brown said.
This funny moment is just one of the many he had during the year. Unfortunately, some of the other funny stories are a little R-rated.
The club had many moments of triumph but also some moments of frustration. Those moments of frustration were brought up when he said they stopped playing as a team in March. Brown felt like some of the things that made them play well earlier in the season were not happening.
“We played like a top three team, and it frustrated me because we were so close to being that all year, but we just couldn’t compete in late February and March with some teams that we should’ve beat.”
Heading into the MACHA Playoffs, the team was 12-9. The team had their sights set on Nationals in Boston, and they had to shape up their act, or they would be heading home early. Brown’s personal highs and lows happened at this time too.
The highs came from a first-round win against Dordt, and a win in the second round against a team they had just lost two straight to (Creighton). That game against Creighton was a moment of triumph for the team and Brown. They were ready to win the championship game.
“I loved seeing everyone play the way they did.” After their win, he said, “It was the most relieving feeling ever,” Brown said.
Unfortunately, the team did not get their fairytale ending. They lost in dramatic fashion. 5-4 in overtime against The University of Missouri. However, he still enjoyed that final game saying this about overtime, “It was the craziest final five minutes, I was standing the entire time, and I don’t think I blinked.”
If Brown had the opportunity to talk to himself a year ago, he would say, “You’re still playing hockey, you’re going to the school you love that you’ve always wanted to go to, and keep grinding.”
This related directly back to the issue he first faced going into college, to play hockey in college? Or not to play hockey in college? But it wasn’t only this, Brown realized that he matured throughout the year and a lot as a person. He also shared his optimism for next year’s season. It is safe to say he had an interesting year filled with highs, lows, and everything in between.