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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Western hockey looks to enhance fan base

By Hannah Blank

Western’s club hockey team is back on the ice this season, ready to bring the heat as they compete in a new and more challenging conference division. With the team’s recent acceptance into the Pac-8 Hockey Conference, Head Coach Larry MacDonald said he is enthusiastic about the season.

Western Washington University’s club hockey team plays Montana State in Bellingham, Wash. at the Sportsplex Sept. 29, 2018. The Vikings lost 4-3 in the third period. // Photo by Hannah Blank

Now playing in the Pac-8, a conference made up of non-varsity teams from the NCAA’s Pac-12 conference, the team is hopeful that their reputation will grow.

According to MacDonald, the team has had an influx of skilled players come out of the Bellingham Blazers and the Western States Hockey League teams, which is a bonus for the team as they are in a new, competitive league.

Older players carry more experience, but with only one senior this year, the team is mainly comprised of underclassmen. Regardless, MacDonald said he is eager about the development of the younger players on the team and the future recruits he is currently talking to.

“We have a good club and it keeps getting better each practice,” MacDonald said.

Dawson Roberts, defensive player and Western sophomore, said the team is more serious now than ever before with new and talented faces being added to the mix. Of the six freshmen this year, three have played for the Bellingham Blazers, an Amateur Athletic Union-sanctioned Tier II junior ice hockey team.

One of few upperclassmen and new team captain, Alex Stoneham, is back on the ice this year after recovering from an ACL injury he sustained during his freshman year. Stoneham said he went to the doctor but continued to play on it with the understanding that it was not too serious, which only aggravated the injury further.

Stoneham required surgery in December 2017 and after a nine-month recovery period, returned for his first game back against the Eugene Generals on Sept. 21.

“There’s a smaller chance of re-injuring it now,” Stoneham said. “I did lots of physical therapy and then weights to get back to 100 percent.”

Of the newcomers, freshman goalie Anna Stensland is the only woman on the team, but that hasn’t stopped her from giving the boys a run for their money. Stensland has played hockey for the past 15 years and her experience was evident when she got the 8-7 win against the Generals in her debut as a Viking.

“Coming into it, I was scared and a little intimidated,” Stensland said when asked about being on an all-male team. “Now they’re all like older brothers and treat me no different than one of their teammates.”

As the men’s team gains more of a following, Stensland said she is aiming to find other interested female-identifying students to create a women’s team.

“Women’s sports are underrepresented in college and I want to change that,” Stensland said.

According to Mark MacDonald, a sophomore defensive player, one of the team’s goals for the year is to gain a bigger fan base. He said the team’s support has dwindled as the popularity of hockey in the United States has fallen, but they are hoping that as they build their team in size and skill, their popularity will start to increase.

Getting the word out is the first step in building that fan base. The team can be found on several social media platforms which are frequently updated with their stats and game day information.

Prior to all of the games, a link to a live stream on YouTube will be posted on the team’s Facebook page so fans can view the game wherever they may be. The Vikings’ next games will be on Friday, Oct. 12 and Saturday, Oct. 13 at Eastern Washington University.



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