As members of the Nebraska men’s club hockey team glide across the rink at the John Breslow Ice Hockey Center, it’s clear that the team has one goal for their 2021-22 campaign: bring a hockey national championship to the state of Nebraska.
Led by veteran head coach Larry Taylor, this year’s team has a strong bond with each other as they start their season.
“I think they’ve got some good chemistry that they’ve been working on lately,” he said.
Nebraska opened the season with four games against Kansas, going 3-1 in those contests. The loss came on a 9-7 heartbreaker in their home opener.
“Our first home game here was kind of a wakeup call for a lot of young guys,” said team captain and goaltender Bennett Stanchfield. “I don’t think they were ready to have a big crowd show up, and it was kind of a slap in the face that we can’t just expect to win every single game.”
While hockey is often filled with exciting highlight-reel plays, Taylor implements a system that emphasizes strong fundamental hockey, like defense and faceoffs. Once those lessons take root, the coaching staff will begin to add more complex plays, he said.
“We don’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to this game,” Taylor said. “Hockey is kind of a simple game and it’s basically about execution.”
Past teams, stocked with strong forwards, prioritized offense. This year’s team shows a stronger defense while also maintaining a strong offense, making Stanchfield’s job in the net much easier.
“They do a great job at cleaning up guys up front, getting chippy when necessary, cleaning out rebounds because I can’t make every save,” he said. “They do a really fantastic job making sure that we have a solid foundation back in the defensive zone.”
Goaltenders rarely make natural captains, but Stanchfield said he leads by example. He credits the assistant captains with communicating with refs during games. Teammates know their role and compete every night, so Stanchfield said he doesn’t need to confront them very often.
“These guys make my job really easy because they want to win just as much as I do,” he said.
Stanchfield loves the team’s chemistry. A good vibe in the locker room boosts spirit while sustaining intensity.
The team’s cast of colorful characters keeps the game fun, team president Jacob McHale said.
“I think that’s what everybody loves about being on a hockey team, you’re just surrounded by a bunch of goofy kids,” McHale said.
Practices consist of competition-based drills. Forwards and defensemen participate in short one-on-one breakaway drills and scrimmages between the various lines.
“We’re one of the better teams and we’re trying to keep progressing forward,” McHale said. “We keep the intensity up in practice.”
Now, as the season gets into full swing, the team has their eyes on the national championship. The team has come close in recent years but is still looking to take the final step.
Due to COVID-19, the team did not play last year, McHale said. But prior to that, they had made it to the final 16 teams in the country for their division three straight years, he said.
“We’re trying to do the same this this year and hopefully win a national championship,” McHale said. “That’d be awesome. Bring a national championship back to Nebraska.”
The goal may be a title, but Stanchfield and the team are just happy to still be playing hockey. Both Stanchfield and McHale want fans to pack the ice center for all their games, to help propel them and give them a major home ice advantage.
“We’re kind of blessed and gracious to have this opportunity, so you know we’re taking it for what it is,” Stanchfield said.