Though it was left without a rink to play on a few months ago, the men's hockey team is now looking at its first playoff berth in four seasons.
Columbia is currently tied for second place in the Metropolitan Collegiate Hockey Conference with four regular season games remaining. The team has doubled in size since last year and has four of the league's top 10 leaders in scoring, but just a couple months ago administrative procedures put the entire season in jeopardy. In early October, Columbia's procurement office refused to approve a contract with the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., for liability reasons.
“The University has certain liability restrictions that facilities must meet in order to protect the University and the students,” Director of Intramurals and Club Sports Brian Jines said in a statement. “Certain ice rinks our men and women's ice hockey clubs wanted to skate at were not able to meet those requirements and were not willing to negotiate their contract's liability requirements with the University.”
That left co-presidents Nate Bram, CC '14, and Julian Noisecat, CC '15, with the responsibility of finding ice.
“It was incredibly challenging just because in the greater New York City area there are not many hockey rinks, so all of the rinks were at 100 percent capacity,” Bram said, adding that the team usually reserves ice time in July. Bram and Noisecat eventually found space for games at the Ice Hutch in Mount Vernon, and practice facilities at World Ice in Flushing and just north of campus at Riverbank State Park.
It has also been a challenge for the team to keep the same coaches from year to year. Columbia has three new coaches this season after last year's coach was unable to return. Two seasons ago, a coach quit mid-year because there were only eight players on the team—a problem the team did not have to worry about this year.
“Last year we had about 12 or 13 skaters on the roster, and this year there's 25. There was a huge growth of interest in the club, and it's really translated into our record,” Noisecat said. “We had some very skilled players last year. We had three of the top scorers in the league and we were as skilled as the best teams in the league—we just had a short bench.”
Dan Innamorato, Business '14 and the MCHC Player of the Month in December and its leading scorer with 16 goals, agrees.
“I think the key thing is depth—that we can roll three lines out there now,” Innamorato, who scored eight goals and logged nine assists in two December games, said. “Last year, we were relying on our top guys maybe a little too much and getting tired out. This year we've got a lot more guys who can really play. We're getting contributions up and down the line.”
Increased interest in the team has come from both undergraduate and graduate students with different levels of hockey experience. Despite the differences in background, the team has gelled nicely according to Daniele Caccavella, SEAS '15, who was the league's Player of the Month in November and is its second-leading scorer with 13 goals.
“We've got a good crew of older and younger guys, but we all really get along well even though we vary in age, so I think that's a key contributor to our success,” Caccavella said.
With an 8-2 record, Columbia is in a second-place tie with Suffolk, but its spot in the four-team playoffs is not yet guaranteed.
“I think we're really excited that we've had so much success, but our four remaining games are against all really good teams,” Bram said, noting that the month-long break could be beneficial given that a few players are recovering from injuries.
Columbia will face fourth-place County College of Morris (6-2) at the Ice Hutch on Jan. 25, followed by two games against Kings Point (3-3) on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in Great Neck, N.Y. The team will finish its regular season against Suffolk on Feb. 8 at the Ice Hutch.
“I hope that we walk all over these guys. It's not going to be an easy road, but it'll just make our team ready for playoffs,” Caccavella said. “I'm glad we have this tough schedule coming up. I think we can win the whole thing.”
The four-team playoffs will be held on Feb. 16 and 17 at the AmeriHealth Pavilion, the practice facility of the New Jersey Devils.
“Our goal is to win the championship. We want to win that title,” Innamorato said, but he phrased his personal goal in more colorful terms. In what he noted will be his last shot at competitive hockey, the 26-year-old graduate student said he hopes to “win that championship and skate off into the sunset.”
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