Skating the Extra Mile

Playing on the Mizzou Club Hockey team means spending a chilling amount of time traveling on U.S. 63. Columbia is an iceless city, so the team commutes to Washington Park Ice Arena in Jefferson City for practice and games multiple days a week.

Club sports at MU are student-led organizations with limited school funding. Student team leaders organize all the details, whether that’s finances and business strategy, competition and practice times or building a fan base. Team captain and senior Nick Spolec, who has been the club president since April, says he has noticed a rise in interest over the past year, including attendance, social media following and conversations with potential players.

The team’s success surely helps. During the 2022-23 season, it won the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association Regional Tournament.

But Mizzou Club Hockey is more than just a team. It’s a tight-knit community of passionate individuals who are dedicated to the game despite the hurdles. For example, sophomore Danny Rudman says it can be hard to earn money since hockey takes away time he might spend on a job. Social sacrifices, such as missing out on typical student activities like football games and college parties, are also part of the trade-off. In the end, hockey comes out on top.

“The life skills that we’re learning, the connections that we’re making with the community, with ourselves, the bond that we all grow as a team — I feel like all that kind of pays its own dividend,” Spolec says.

“I think anytime you’re talking about a team that’s playing at this level, the two things that kind of dovetail are commitment and discipline,” says Locke Thompson, who is the goaltending coach. “You know, you don’t want to drive down to Jeff City at 10:45 on a Monday night after a long day of classes, right? And they show up, and they’ve always got a great attitude. It seems like a group that has bonded very, very well together.”

“I just really think that the commitment level from the guys takes it that much further,” says junior and assistant captain Drew Driscoll. “The intensity of our practices, how we play and how we hold ourselves to a higher standard is just huge.”

As a club sport, it can be more difficult to turn heads. “Even having the label as a club kind of draws attention away from it,” says junior Drew Driscoll. “But since we are the only team, since Mizzou doesn’t have an NCAA team, it draws a lot of guys that still just genuinely love the sport.”

Commitment to the team is a no-brainer for senior Nick Spolec. “If you love something and want to be part of it, you’re gonna have to make sacrifices,” he said. “I don’t really ever view it as a negative, and I don’t think any of the guys do.”

For Drew Driscoll, being part of the team has been a great way for him to make friends outside his other interests. “I have so many more options to go and do things,” Driscoll says.

“Our coach tells us this a lot, but he always tells us these are the guys we’re gonna keep our friendships with through the next years of our life after college and these are the bonds that matter. He tells us a lot to enjoy the time we have here and cherish it,” says sophomore Danny Rudman, pictured left. “If we can do that, and win, it just makes it a better experience for everybody.”

The lack of significant school funding is a hurdle for the team, but Spolec believes the payoff of building relationships with sponsors is huge. “It really incentivizes us to grow closer connections with the community, and that’s something we’ve been able to do really well,” Spolec says. “Ultimately, we love being part of the community.”

Original story for Vox Magazine. Thank you to Owen Ziliak for assisting with lighting and creative direction.

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