In just under two weeks, the NC State men’s club hockey team will travel to Bismarck, North Dakota to compete at nationals for the second time in three years. This was a season of many firsts for the Icepack, but similar to its spectacular run two years ago, the team has earned its right to compete for a national championship.
Playing its first games in the brand new Wake Competition Center, the regular season began with three straight wins against Dallas Baptist University and an incredible victory over No. 3 Liberty University.
“The game against Liberty at Wake Competition Center was one of the best games I think I’ve played in during my four years,” said senior Eric Todd. “I think it’s the first time Liberty’s been in our building since I’ve played here, and beating them the first time they were here, it was really good.”
Shortly after, the team traveled up to Virginia and tied Liberty in a close 1-1 matchup. A win against No. 8 East Texas Baptist University just one weekend later marked the second time NC State beat a ranked team. Then in mid-February, Icepack continued to prove its worth, taking one of two games in Florida against the two-time defending champions, No. 7 Florida Gulf Coast University.
DOWN GOES GULF COAST ❗️❗️ pic.twitter.com/T9QA9GYCxc— NC State Icepack (@NCStateHockey) February 14, 2021
NC State rounded out February with two dominant wins against the Coastal Hockey Club before returning home and suffering two straight losses to Florida Gulf Coast. Despite the struggle in those last two games, NC State defended its title and returned as ACCHL champions for the third season in a row in late March, securing an 8-3 victory over Virginia Tech.
Now it’s all about achieving the goal of bringing back a national championship. The Icepack will make the trip to North Dakota in mid-April to compete in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 2 National Championships.
Earning a No. 8 national seed at the end of its season, NC State will compete in Pool A against No. 9 University of Providence (Montana), No. 16 Davenport University and No. 1 University of Mary, all beginning at 2 p.m. on April 15, against the University of Providence Argos.
Despite qualifying for the second time in the past three years, this trip is expected to be different from the insane surprise run back in 2019.
“Even though we’ve played less games, I think we’re actually more prepared because of the competition that we’ve played,” said head coach Tim Healy. “So I think that’s one. I think two years ago, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I think not only do we know what this tournament is about and what it takes to win it, we’ve also had more success against nationals-level competition. So, I think those are huge differences from last time around.”
The entire tournament will take place between April 14-21 in North Dakota, and each opponent the Icepack is slated to play to begin the trip will be a first-time opponent for the team.
“I mean it's all you dream of as a kid, right?” Todd said. “You just want to win a national championship and being able to do it, like, for your school, playing for more than just the team, but we have so much support in the community. It means a lot to everyone in the locker room, I think.”
While NC State recently reached its goal to support its trip to nationals, it is always accepting donations on its website: icepackhockey.com. As a self-funded program, the team is supported primarily by player dues and ticket sales, which have been slim this season because of restrictions due to the pandemic.
To keep up with the team as it makes its way to North Dakota, you can check out its website and follow its Twitter page @NCStateHockey.