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UNC club ice hockey raises profile with tournament

A small crowd gathered to watch the Georgetown v. NC State hockey game at the ACC Hockey Tournament at the Triangle Sportsplex in Hillsborough on Saturday. The tournament, which ran from Friday to Sunday, drew between 150 and 200 spectators on Friday night, according to Diane Thompson, mother of senior defensman John Thompson, who worked the door at many of the games this weekend. The tournament featured spirited competition from the athletes, regardless of the attendance. "They're playing for the name on the front of their jersey," said Thompson. "They're playing for pride."

As UNC’s club ice hockey team scored goals against opponents at Hillsborough’s Triangle SportsPlex this weekend, they also scored assists for the county’s local profile.

For the first time, the UNC club hosted the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League Championship Tournament, placing fourth out of seven teams. The competition was held Friday through Sunday.

UNC head coach Bud Johnston said around 250 to 300 tickets were sold for the event. Tickets cost $25 for the weekend and $5 per game.

“The idea is to draw as many fans as possible to let them know there is a hockey team out in Chapel Hill,” he said.

Laurie Paolicelli, executive director of the Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau, said her office assembled welcome packets for visiting teams and sent marketing materials to 2,000 of its stakeholders in the area.

“We’d like to see more events like this hockey tournament take place in Hillsborough because it’s such a positive boon for Orange County tourism,” she said.

UNC team captain Evan Bonertz said potential ACCHL players and high school teams showed up to support teams at the tournament.

“We tried to encourage everyone to see Chapel Hill by giving them some coupons, flyers, gift bags and T-shirts,” Bonertz said.

The team raised nearly $1,000 from a raffle at the tournament and also took additional donations.

Johnston said because ice hockey is a club sport, events like the tournament are helpful in attracting potential UNC student recruits and outside donors.

He said the team’s budget varies from $35,000 to $40,000 a year, but finding money to help finance it has been difficult. The team practices and hosts games at the SportsPlex, but Johnston said he hasn’t found donors willing to donate a bus to shuttle students to and from games.

“The hardest thing is that we’re 25 minutes from campus,” he said.

UNC Sports Clubs Director Jason Halsey said the hockey team has one of the highest financial commitments of any club.

“As far as facility rental, no other club has the same financial commitment that they would,” he said. “Other facility rentals are peanuts compared to what we pay in ice time.”

The ice rink costs $270 an hour to rent, Johnston said. Games typically last two hours, and referee costs total more than $300.

Johnston said the need to schedule weekend fundraisers may affect the club’s schedule in the future.

“We’re required to get 21 games in season, so trying to get to do fundraisers on weekends is very tough,” he said. “We’re going to try to change the schedule next year.”

Johnston said regular season attendance varies between 50 and 100 people per game, but attracting more fans is one of his goals.

“We need people to support us,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing, trying to get the word out.”

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