HUNTINGTON - You won’t find the schedule posted on any official Marshall athletic websites, but MU has a club hockey team.
The season gets underway Oct. 12 against West Liberty at the South Charleston Memorial Ice Arena. Tickets are $5 for general admission, $3 for students (with Marshall ID), and $2 for members of the Marshall Maniacs (with ID).
Something new for this season is the addition of Bill Durstein as coach. He is no stranger to hockey; he’s been involved in the sport since his childhood.
“I grew up in Pittsburgh, played as a kid until I was 15, then I went to Marshall, and there was no hockey at that time.” Durstein said. “I moved back here around 1989 or ‘90 and that was in the Huntington Blizzard era, so got back into it, started a youth hockey association, and even had a private rink. I also did various amounts of coaching. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years.”
This season, the team will compete as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Hockey and will play in the Ohio River Collegiate Hockey Conference with West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit, Northern Kentucky, Denison, and Allegheny (Pa.).
Membership in the NAIH gives club hockey teams more structure, according to Durstein.
“It’s all club hockey, smaller schools trying to establish their programs,” he said. “It’s a meeting place to get to know other teams, have common ground”
Hockey at Marshall is a recognized club organization by student government, but since it’s not an official intercollegiate sport under the athletic department, it doesn’t enjoy the same support as other programs at larger schools.
“West Virginia, Ohio University and Kentucky have had established club hockey teams for at least 20 years” Durstein said. “West Virginia plays at the highest level of collegiate hockey that isn’t NCAA, but they play very high level hockey.
“Their (West Virginia) budget is about $3,000. They pay for ice time, equipment, pay their coaches. They do fundraising thoughout the year. That is an established club team.”
In contrast, Marshall hockey receives some help from student government, but for the most part the players are footing the bill.
“We have approached the SGA, and there are funds available for legitimate registered clubs at Marshall; they will give some funds,” Durstein said. “The kids have reached out to the athletic program, ‘We know we’re not part of the program and budget, but can you help?”
“It’s $1,000 just for each kid to have the basic equipment to play. Ice time is $200 an hour. If we practice, it’s a $400 bill for us. It’s a true commitment for our kids.”
Adding to that commitment is a $10 tryout fee. There is a $350 membership fee if you make the roster, plus the cost of travel back and forth between Huntington and the Kanawha Valley to the South Charleston Memorial Ice Arena.
“Our problem is we don’t have a local rink in Huntington or on campus,” Durstein said. “Pitt’s got a rink close by; they have 30 rinks in Pittsburgh. It’s a level of commitment to travel 45 minutes to travel for practice and games. Part of it is fundraising and backing to play at those levels.”
Those levels include competing with larger programs such as WVU, which has varsity and junior varsity teams.
“We might play the (West Virginia) D-2 team this year,” Durstein said. “We couldn’t belong on the same level of the D-1 team. Most of those kids that play D-1, they play travel or midget hockey.
“West Virginia has 10 kids from western Pennsylvania, no less than four from junior hockey programs. You’ve got to have talent. I don’t see Marshall having talent D-1 talent for 5-7 years.”
Some of that talent right now is coming from students that once played hockey getting a second chance to play again.
“The kids are trying to make an effort to get the word out on campus, some kids show up at Marshall from New Jersey, New York, Buffalo (N.Y.), and they played hockey” Durstein said. “Those kids think they might not play again, but find out Marshall has a program and they may get to play again.”
There are no delusions of grandeur about Marshall club hockey becoming a varsity sport, but it wouldn’t be the first time a club hockey program made the move up.
“Penn State had club hockey for 25 years, and about three years ago they had a very rich alumnus (Terry Pegula, whose former business, East Resources Inc., was big in natural gas development in the Marcellus shale region) donate the money to build an arena on campus, and Penn State this year is playing NCAA hockey for the first year,” Durstein said.
South Charleston Memorial Ice Arena may last longer than the Tri- State Ice Arena in Huntington did, but for this club to survive, it’s going to take money and support.
“If would be awesome if we could find a pro or semipro team to bring back to Huntington,” Durstein said. It wouldn’t take much to get the ice back up at the arena. Marshall would have a nice place to play home games. I just don’t know who would be willing to make that commitment.”
The Marshall club hockey schedule to date (home games at South Charleston Memorial Ice Arena):
Oct. 12 West Liberty, 9 p.m.
Oct. 26 Wheeling Jesuit, 9 p.m.
Oct. 27 Wheeling Jesuit, 9 p.m.
Nov. 9 at Northern Kentucky, 10 p.m.
Nov. 10 Northern Kentucky, time TBA
Nov. 30 at West Liberty, time TBA
Dec. 1at Wheeling Jesuit, time TBA