Men’s hockey works late shift for love of the game

By Tim Murphy

Hockey has never been an activity for the faint of heart. Just ask the GSB club ice hockey team.

In a sport like hockey, often defined by bone-crushing checks, a relentless tempo of play, and smiles that resemble jack-o-lanterns, participation requires a true enthusiasm and passion for the game. It’s only fitting that when the members of the Chicago team lace up their skates every Tuesday night, they do so at a rink more than an hour removed from campus, without the benefit of team practices, and with a roster that is often barely large enough for substitutions.

You have to really want to play a game in which pucks can come sailing at you 100 miles per hour. If you really want to play the game, then you’ll make the hour-long trek north to the rink in suburban Northbrook, where the team is part of an adult men’s league.

Northwestern is the only other college in the league. While this year’s record stands at a disappointing 3–5–1 as of press time, last year the squad did its part for school pride by winning the regular season title. Chicago advanced to the semifinals of the league tournament before being eliminated. Yet while the team always plays to win, they are driven by something greater.

“The fact that we have to go so far is a testament to how much we love the game,” said JC Groon, a fourth-year GSB student who played club hockey in college at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s very much a game that we collectively miss.”

“We all played at the high school level,” said Pat Goff, a second-year GSB student and co-chair of the team. “Many have played at the college club level, and a few played at the intercollegiate level. We even have one player [first-year GSB student Rob McDonald] who played semi-pro hockey in Germany, so there are many different levels of experience.”

Due to time constraints from schoolwork and job interviews, the number of players on the squad varies throughout the year. While an ideal hockey team dresses at least 21 players, enough for four separate shifts and a goalie, on a typical night Chicago suits only 11 players. On some nights, the club goes the full three periods with only seven.

“It’s exhausting, especially when you’re finishing [the game] at 10 o’clock and you know you’ll be awake until three,” said second-year GSB student Peter Ferguson, who along with Pat Goff serves as co-chair of the squad

“We’ve had some undergrads in past years and they’ve been some of our better players because they’re all in the best shape,” Goff said.

Although the team is organized by GSB students, the age and experience of its members varies from year to year.

“There’s usually a pretty big mix [of students],” Ferguson said. “There are some alumni, some graduate students. In years past we’ve had a lot more undergraduates. I don’t know of other clubs that have as big of a mix as we do, besides maybe rugby.”

With no practices in which to foster a real team spirit, the team draws a sense of camaraderie through other channels. Paramount among these is the Hyde Park apartment currently inhabited by Ferguson. The flat has been handed down from one GSB teammate to another for the past five years. “It’s been an unofficial hockey fraternity for a while,” Groon said. “There’s a lot of good fun there.”

Additionally, the team hits the road for a few weekends each year to compete in regional tournaments. This year, the team plans to travel to two tournaments. They will face off at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, March 3, and travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a competition hosted by Harvard Business School.

“When we went away last year, guys just got to know each other better,” Ferguson said. “We had a bunch of guys last year who were big jokesters and it [the team] got more fun, which made our team better.”

Considering the circumstances, the members of the GSB club ice hockey team could be excused if they felt that playing hockey at Chicago is like looking for a lite salad at Harold’s Chicken Shack. Yet for all the barriers that would seem to make those Tuesday night contests chores, the thrill of being out on the ice makes everything worth it.

“There’s never a problem,” Ferguson said. “Some days I have a hard time making a two minute drive to go to class, but an hour drive for hockey is nothing. If it’s a stressful week, I totally forget it when I’m going to the game.”

For a sport that is only just returning from a greed-induced, season-long lockout at its highest level, it is comforting to know that there are still people who will willingly travel across the city on a weeknight just to play the game.