By: Cassandra Kidd
The Marquette University Men’s Club Hockey team may not be in the NHL or even in the NCAA, but for the boys who play, that’s the beauty of it.
Richard Paul Gunza experienced a taste of the competitive hockey lifestyle before coming to Marquette, playing for the Washington Junior Nationals in D.C. Juniors teams attract many NCAA scouts, and Gunza originally hoped to be recruited for a collegiate team. After a year of playing hockey on the juniors team and talking with relatives about their Division III hockey experiences, he decided he wanted more than hockey in his life.
“It was such a time commitment,” Gunza says. “Their fall through spring break was entirely hockey and school. It took a year, but I figured that was something I didn’t want to do.”
Gunza shifted his focus from hockey pucks to academics and chose to attend Marquette University, unaware that the club hockey team existed.
“During my college decision after juniors, I really didn’t want to base it off hockey,” he says. “Marquette felt like the best fit for me.”
So, is Gunza happy with his decision to leave juniors for an ACHA club team?
“I like everything about Marquette hockey a lot better,” he says.
Ryan Zanon, team captain, had a couple of offers in his high school career to play juniors, but he chose the academic route as well. He was aware of the club hockey team, though, and playing for the team was always included in his vision of life at Marquette. Club hockey has become more important than he could have imagined.
“Sometimes I almost feel as though I came to Marquette to play hockey,” Zanon says. He feels that there is a great sense of pride that comes with playing for Marquette University Club Hockey, even more so than he felt playing for his high school team, Notre Dame College Prep, in Chicago.
Zanon stands by his decision to attend Marquette University and turn down juniors’ hockey offers, saying, “Yes, I’d absolutely do this again.”
Austin Carlson, an alternative captain for the team, could have qualified for juniors but also chose to put academics before hockey.
“I never considered playing in juniors,” he says. “I always wanted to start college right away. My mom always told me, ‘hockey’s not going to pay the bills.’”
Carlson will concede that hockey played a role in his college decision, though. He knew he wanted to have the option of playing hockey while he was in school, but he didn’t want it to take over his life.
Between high school and juniors, all three skaters have experienced pretty tough training regimens. For Gunza in Washington, D.C., practice was a daily commitment, games were every week and showcases for NCAA scouts were common. Zanon and Carlson had similar schedules playing for their high school teams. With club hockey practice only twice a week, their schedules are much more relaxed now. Zanon explains, “College is more personal training more than anything. You make of it what you can.”
This allows the team members to experience other things in their college careers.
“I really wanted to find a balance between hockey and all the other aspects of college, like academics and social life in comparison to being all hockey,” Gunza says.
Carlson believes that playing on a club team is the best way to play sports in college. “Club hockey is perfect,” he says. “You get to play at a pretty competitive level while still having a social life and being able to focus on school.”
As seniors, Zanon and Carlson have been playing on the club hockey team for four years, and Gunza has skated with the team for the three years he’s been at Marquette. All three agree that what they like most about playing club hockey for Marquette is the camaraderie of the team.
“I know a lot of people on campus sometimes call us a fraternity, and I’m sure, at moments, we do act like it,” Zanon says. “It’s just the closeness and the group of guys. The energy in the locker room, the jokes, the laughs, the hard times, the great times — it’s just a really great group of guys. That makes it a lot easier to want to play and work hard for them.”
Playing on the club team at Marquette is playing hockey for hockey’s sake. “No one’s looking to get to the next level. That’s the big difference between high school and here,” Carlson says. “In high school, everyone is looking to get scouted or recruited and they’re all worried about their stats. Here … there’s nothing beyond this. We’re all focused on winning games and being a good team.”
Marquette’s club hockey team plays for the love of the sport. Hockey is important to each skater without being everything to each individual, and that’s just the way the players like it.