The Hillsdale Hockey Team. Rachel Kookogey | Col­legian

Since the beginning of the semester, Hillsdale’s newest sports team, the hockey club, has played four games — winning three and losing one — in a men’s league in Jackson.

Sophomore Zach Niebolt, the pres­ident of the club, tried to start a team last year, but only recruited around 10 players. Last semester, he met freshman Ben Hanson who also tried to start a hockey team. Com­bined, Niebolt and Hanson had the nec­essary amount of stu­dents needed to start a club.

The team plays in an inter­me­diate men’s league, known as a “beer league,” in Jackson every Tuesday night. It also prac­tices once per week at a local alumnus’s per­sonal ice rink.

Ini­tially, Niebolt said, the club faced some issues getting off the ground.

“The idea behind club sports is that it’s sup­posed to be a varsity team without schol­ar­ships, and it’s not offi­cially affil­iated with the college,” he said. “But you’re still sup­posed to play in an inter­col­le­giate division.”

Hillsdale’s location made this dif­ficult. Nearby col­leges like Spring Arbor and Albion don’t have club teams, according to Niebolt, so the team’s only oppor­tunity would be playing Division 1 club teams like the Uni­versity of Michigan or Michigan State Uni­versity. 

“Those teams have guys who were just barely cut from Division 1 college hockey,” he said. “We’d get destroyed.”

Niebolt remem­bered that the college’s club baseball team plays in a men’s league and used that to fight for the hockey club. Even­tually, the admin­is­tration allowed it, and Niebolt found a league in Jackson that the team could join.

To the team’s sur­prise, it won its first game 5 – 4. 

“We couldn’t play cohe­sively as a team and our line changes were pretty poor,” Niebolt said. 

During the game, the team received two dif­ferent penalties for having six skaters on the ice.

Junior Ben Weide, who has played hockey since he was little, said the team relied on indi­vidual talent during its first game. 

“We had no structure. We couldn’t get out of our own zone. We relied a lot on speed and break­aways,” he said.

Since then, the team has used its practice time to develop its own style, line changes, and gameplay. 

“In the last couple games, we’ve started pos­sessing the puck and passing more,” Weide said. “It’s nice to finally develop our game into some­thing that resembles hockey.”

With a good base of indi­vidual talent, Niebolt also said he noticed the team coming together over the last few weeks.

“We’ve been building up the team dynamic and cohe­siveness after we have that good indi­vidual talent,” he said.

Niebolt also played since he was young and con­tinued through high school. Coming to Hillsdale, he thought there would be at least some hockey “up here in the frozen north,” but was dis­ap­pointed when there weren’t a lot of games. “So I decided to take some ini­tiative,” he said.

Most of the players on the team have played hockey before. Sophomore Ryan Perkins, who serves as the vice pres­ident of the hockey club, noted that about 75% of the team has played com­pet­i­tively in the past. Others, he said, have played only pond hockey or recre­ationally.

“Coming out here, I was very inter­ested in Hillsdale, but having no hockey team was a huge bummer,” Perkins said. “The interest for everyone on our team has been that we’ve been playing hockey our whole lives and we don’t wanna stop now. So any oppor­tunity we have, we’re going to take.”

Weide, who is from the Detroit area, agreed with Perkins. Until now, Weide peri­od­i­cally drove home just to play with friends at a drop-in session or in a beer league. 

“The chance to play on a regular basis is some­thing I hadn’t been able to do, and I really miss that,” Weide said.

Cur­rently, the team has a wide range of talent. Perkins and Niebolt agreed that getting the lines figured out across skill levels was a sig­nif­icant chal­lenge, but that everyone is getting to know each other and their indi­vidual play styles better.

“We under­stand how each other plays now,” senior Brittany Loomis said. “I can predict where my for­wards will be and our for­wards can predict where our defense will be.”

Loomis plays defense for the team. She’s the only woman playing for Hillsdale and one of three in the Jackson beer league. Before coming to Hillsdale, Loomis played for advanced teams like Com­puware, Belle Tire, and even the USA girl’s devel­opment program.

So far, Loomis said she is impressed with how quickly the team has come together. Before joining, she felt anxious about playing reg­u­larly with all men — some­thing she hasn’t done since she was nine years old.

“I found out there were guys who have never really skated com­pet­i­tively before, so that kind of calmed my anxiety about it a little bit,” Loomis said. 

Even­tually, team­mates started asking Loomis for help learning dif­ferent skills because of her expe­rience.

“Last week I scored my first goal,” Loomis said. “I turned around and saw all the guys cheering for me. If I’m getting a hard time from the other team on the ice, my team will be there for me. They call me the token girl on the team, so that’s been a great bonding expe­rience, just knowing they’re gonna have my back.”

Niebolt said the team is always looking to expand the program and incor­porate new players. In addition, the team will sell jerseys later this month to help fund its oper­a­tions.

“I’ve been super impressed and I think we’re all con­fident that we’ll be able to grow as a team,” Perkins said. “Hope­fully, in the future, we’ll be able to play in better leagues.”