The William & Mary club ice hockey team has taken significant steps in recent years to elevate its stature and draw more interest from the university community.
It may have taken the biggest one yet Sunday when it claimed the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League (ACCHL) championship for its division.
The title served notice that the Tribe ice hockey team is doing big things and looking to build on that success, said volunteer head coach Adam Barger.
“Hey, we’re here. We can play some great, competitive hockey while being at an elite school like William & Mary,” said Barger, associate director for academic innovation & digital learning at the Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation.
W&M’s ice hockey team is an ACCHL Division III member of the Collegiate Hockey Federation. The club was founded in 1987 and organized under W&M’s Sports Club Program. It is open to undergraduate and graduate students of all genders.
The ACCHL is the highest level of collegiate ice hockey in the region. W&M plays its home games at the Hampton Roads Iceplex in Yorktown and competes in a division with the likes of Old Dominion University, American, Radford and The Citadel.
Club sports at W&M are not sanctioned by the NCAA. The players are not on athletic scholarship. They play for the love of the game.
“We aren’t playing with students that have to perform for a scholarship or they have to perform to get to the next level of hockey,” Barger said. “That’s not the case in this level of sport, which is why I love it. The only reason these students are playing is because they love hockey."
The ice hockey club has gone through an overhaul after some lean years. An influx of players the last two seasons has helped significantly, said Will Schuler ’22, one of five seniors on the team.
“It’s been awesome to see the growth over the years I’ve played,” Schuler said. “I joined in fall 2019, and I think we lost probably half our games that year by 10 goals, including Appalachian State, the team we beat in the championship.”
Barger, who has been head coach since 2018, credits the dedicated students, who not only play the games but handle most of the heavy lifting of running the club, including budgeting, scheduling and organizing practices and team activities. Assistance is provided by a group of volunteer coaches, and a booster club of club alumni handles fundraising.
Some students have taken on coaching roles, such as Noor Scavotto ’24, who is a “huge asset to the team and has added a lot in her two years at William & Mary,” Barger said.
The players and coaches also work hard to get word out about the club at recruitment fairs and campus events. They’re always looking for new players to join them.
“It’s no secret that people don’t come to William & Mary to play ice hockey, but there are plenty of people with ice hockey experience who might be interested at William & Mary,” Barger said. “So we do a lot to get the word out.”
Sunday’s championship win could also prove to be a valuable recruiting tool. Playing high-stakes games against top-level competition has a way of catching people’s attention, Barger said.
“We’re hoping word will get out across the region and in the state that we’re an option for those who want to continue playing hockey while taking their studies very seriously,” Barger said. “I don’t think there’s another school in the state that can do that like we can.”
The Tribe defeated Appalachian State 3-2 in overtime to claim the championship. Bob Berner M.B.A. ’23 scored the game-winning goal with an assist from Jack Frimet ’25.
“I had just returned to the ice for my second shift of overtime when I scored the goal. I made good contact, and the rest is history,” Berner said. “It’s definitely a memory I’ll have for the rest of my life.”
Berner was met by his teammates in front of the net for a celebration fitting the team’s first championship since winning the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference championship in 2011.
The moment is immortalized in a short video posted to the team’s Instagram account.
“As soon as he brought back his stick, we knew he had a shot,” Barger said. “We erupted when it went in because it was a hard-fought game. It was a great team moment.”
The top-seeded Tribe beat No. 4 seed ODU 7-0 in the tournament semifinals Saturday. Junior goalie Nat Raudenbush ’23, affectionately called “Rowdy” by his teammates and coaches, was named tournament MVP for stopping 62 of 64 shots in two playoff games.
“He deserved MVP several times over,” Barger said.
With four senior players and one senior coach departing after this season, the team will be looking to add some new members for next season. The club’s recent success should be a good selling point, Raudenbush said.
“Winning the championship does a lot to increase the visibility of our program,” said Raudenbush, who said the ice hockey club factored into his decision to go to W&M. “It’ll be especially relevant to prospective students looking to go to universities where club hockey is important.”