After reaching regionals for the first time as an official BYU team last season, the BYU hockey team plans to continue their upwards momentum and reach new heights as a program.
With the first game of the season approaching, new head coach Dave Pitcher is preparing the team for a challenging 30 plus game season. With a roster made up of returning players, new freshmen and recently returned missionaries, the focus in practice has mainly been integrating the rookies.
“About half our team is new guys; we have nine rookies,” Pitcher said. “One thing that has always amazed me about the team are the kids coming back from missions and how quickly they pick (hockey) back up.”
Along with the new players on the ice and Pitcher’s return to the program, the hockey team hired Roger Barrus, who coached his high school team the Viewmont Vikings to three state championships.
Veteran players on the team are also excited to build off of the momentum from last season and have a goal to get the program back to regionals.
“As players, we were moving in the right direction, and as hockey has been growing in Utah we have been able to grow as a team,” said Ashton Shimbashi, a fifth year player on the team. “Our win against (top 10 team) Grand Canyon University last year proved to us that we are a good team and we can compete at that level.”
With the season beginning, the team is hitting the ice hard at practice and preparing to begin their season.
“The first two weeks we go through a lot of skating and conditioning, and some of the basic individual skills,” Pitcher said. “Now we’re starting to work on systems, breakouts and our power-play setups. We’re early in the season, but that’s going to help us this weekend.”
Besides skill training and plays, assistant coach Jeremy Eisenstat —who has been with the team for two seasons now — said they hope to instill a new attitude in the program, and continue to expand on the brotherhood the team has already developed.
“I think we had some attitude obstacles to overcome last season, and we’re working very hard to change that with the boys,” Eisenstat said. “The players are really seeing how the mentality of them trusting each other and being positive with each other, and the coaching staff has made a big difference, even just with three weeks of practice.”
Since culture and brotherhood are an important part of the team, the new coaching staff put the development of that culture in the forefront of the program.
“I don’t know a lot of what was happening last year, but I know from teams I’ve coached in the past what brings success, and some of the major things are hard work and being brothers on the ice,” Barrus said. “I can tell you, they have it this year.”
Team veteran Teagan Pitcher agreed and said he knows they owe most of their success to their growing unity on the ice over the last few years.
“Building a culture and a brotherhood has been important to us from the start, and that’s going to carry us through tough weekends like this next one against good in-state teams like Weber State,” Teagan Pitcher said. “Overconfidence has been an issue in the past, but we’ve had a lot of experience with being humble as well.”
Just a few years ago, the hockey program was barely bringing home three wins a season.
“Five years ago, this team was a terrible team,” Dave Pitcher said. “Over the last four years, building up to this year, we’ve gotten progressively better, and credit goes to the previous coach. We want to take it to the next level, and building that feeling in the locker room is what is going to get us there.”
The team finished last season with a 12-12-3 record. Dave Pitcher said the standards and reputation of the BYU hockey team is what brings players to the team.
“The thing that attracts kids to this team is the culture and the standards that they can live and feel comfortable living in our locker room,” Dave Pitcher said. “We’ve had several kids that played for other teams in the state, and they’ve come to play for us because of the culture. These are good, skilled players and that’s the direction that this club is heading.”
Aside from more success on the ice, Teagan Pitcher said the team also hopes to continue to build their fanbase and their recognition as an official BYU team.
“We’re pulling in thousands of people to games, so it’s a growing part of BYU,” Teagan Pitcher said. “It’s started to grow immensely in the last few years because it’s a new, exciting and fast-paced game.”
Eisenstat said hockey is something that brings people together, and brings people coming back.
“If you live in this area, the first hockey game you’re going to see is most likely a BYU game or a Utah Grizzlies game,” Eisenstat said. “Families come out, they bring their kids and they love it; they’re hooked right away.”
After an tough 2-3 loss at Weber State, the BYU hockey team returns home for a game against Utah Valley on Sept. 28 at the Peaks Ice Arena.
For more information on their schedule and ticket prices, check out their official website.