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Editorial: UNC Ice Hockey is earning well-deserved respect

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UNC forward Patrick O'Shaughnessy (14) transitions the puck across the rink during the ice hockey game against N.C. State at Carter-Finley Stadium on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. UNC lost 3-7.

UNC Ice Hockey is a club sport program competing in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s second division, and its current season is unlike any in the program’s history.

Forward Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s goal against Virginia Tech Ice Hockey gained immense popularity this past January. After a clip of the goal went viral on UNC Ice Hockey’s Twitter handle, many organizations in the national hockey realm, including the Carolina Hurricanes, began to notice the team.

However, the icing on the puck for UNC’s program might have been the National Hockey League’s reaction to the goal. The NHL tweeted the clip themselves, where it amassed hundreds of thousands of views. 

The NHL noted that O’Shaughnessy’s goal “predictably, lit up social media.”

This was just one of the many highlights in the team’s season.

Earlier in the season, UNC Ice Hockey beat its archrival, NC State’s Icepack, at the Governor’s Cup. It was the first win at the prestigious event in team history.

However, this recognition has not come easy for the team.

Before this season, head coach Jeff Volkman said, “The large majority of (UNC's) campus doesn’t know we have a hockey team.”

Although the program has just recently started to gain popularity, during the initial stages of the season where portions of UNC’s campus were unaware of the team’s existence, UNC Ice Hockey’s players and leadership persevered to make a name for the program.

Every Monday and Wednesday of the academic year, the team’s players travel almost half an hour from UNC’s main campus to the Orange County Sportsplex in Hillsborough, N.C. After sharpening their skates, the hockey players spend their nights on the ice.

These athletes are jumping hurdles just to get to practice each week. Without an on-campus practice facility or guaranteed transportation, the players take it upon themselves to practice at odd-hours, far from UNC’s campus. The players then drive themselves back to campus late before attending class the next day.

“I really tip my hat to all these student athletes, it’s not easy,” Volkman said. 

So, what’s the team’s incentive to stay on the ice?

Their love for the game.

Despite having to transport themselves off-campus multiple times each week and the lack of on-campus resources for their sport, the athletes of UNC Ice Hockey continue to play simply because they love it.

This season they’ve succeeded in translating their passion for hockey to popularizing their program.

With UNC's win at the Governor’s Cup, O’Shaughnessy’s viral goal and his new status as ACC Men’s Division II Rookie of the Year , the program is etching itself deeper into UNC collegiate athletics. Volkman also recently was recognized as Coach of the Year.

As UNC Ice Hockey defeated The Icepack at the Governor’s Cup, the entire bottom bowl of PNC arena was sold out: an impressive feat for both programs. Although the event was on N.C. State’s home ice, UNC’s athletes said  there were many UNC students that came out to support the team.

Volkman has become the winningest in the team’s history. He details that the Division II program hopes to transition to Division I in the next three to five years. He said the program hopes to build an ice rink on, or close to, UNC’s campus.

One of the best ways for this plan to be effectively executed could be increased student support and turnout — something that the program has been receiving more of this season.

Recently, the Carolina Hurricanes played a home NHL Stadium Series game at Carter-Finley Stadium, its first outdoor game. Two days later, UNC faced off against N.C. State on the very same ice with over 25,000 people in attendance.

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Amidst a sea of N.C. State red, the Carolina Blue in the stands stood out as a representation of the increasing support UNC Ice Hockey has earned throughout this outstanding season.

As UNC Ice Hockey looks forward to building off of the foundation they have constructed this season — whether it be getting more students involved, building an ice rink, or going NCAA DI — the program has begun carving its name into collegiate hockey, earning the respect it deserves. 

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com