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Ice Hockey Club at UC aims for varsity status

Club Hockey Team

The University of Cincinnati's Ice Hockey Club team after making it to the national level in 2019, before the competition was cancelled due to COVID-19. 

Normally at this point in the year, the University of Cincinnati's Ice (UC) Hockey Club would be in mid-season, practicing most weekdays and playing games in a rink at the SportsPlus facility every weekend. The COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, changed that.

Players and organizational members alike have sought ways to play elsewhere in Ohio. George Zimmerer, president of the Ice Hockey Club was one such member. Playing over in Columbus, however, Zimmerer acquired something beyond staying in shape.

Zimmerer tested positive for COVID-19. After his coach in Columbus tested positive, Zimmerer and his teammates undertook rapid tests. When Zimmerer tested positive, he took another formal test at UC, where his diagnosis was confirmed.

"I came back to the house that I grew up in," Zimmerer said. "I'm quarantining here so that I don't get my roommates sick. So, it sucks, but you got to get through it."

Zimmerer is quarantining in his hometown of Medina, Ohio, south of Cleveland. He says hockey is a much bigger deal there than in Cincinnati. After getting his first pair of skates at the age of three, Zimmerer has never looked back.

He won't be cleared to leave quarantine until Nov. 9, when he'll have to take another test. As of now, Zimmerer says he's asymptomatic.

The Hockey Club typically plays about thirty games a season as a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) before potentially progressing to regional and even national competitions.

Concerning last year, Zimmerer spoke fondly of his memories as the club won their southeast regional bouts, allowing them to be one of the three regional teams to compete in the national tournament of the ACHA. However, the pandemic hit before nationals could take place.

"[Nationals] got canceled about a week before they were supposed to happen," Zimmerer said. "It sucked for us because we really thought we had a good chance. Then, we really thought we were going to be good this year, but again, stinks we're not able to play this semester."

According to Zimmerer, there are 200 teams in the ACHA, but only 16 are eligible to play in the national competition every year.

                                                                                                                                     Coincidingly, winning regionals and making it into nationals, along with some of the travel opportunities to Florida and Las Vegas all in his freshman year, are some of Zimmerer's favorite memories so far with the club.

Before he joined the team, UC's Ice Hockey Club also made nationals in 2018, where they made it all way to the final four before succumbing to Florida Gulf Coast, who went on to win the tournament.

One might think a club that's continually proved itself a competitor would be considered varsity by its university—especially accounting for how several players have found their way into various professional minor leagues. However, that's not the case with the Ice Hockey Club.

"It's all about funding," Zimmerer said. "We're really trying to work on it with the school to be considered a varsity sport but still play in the ACHA. We've worked with club sports and the varsity programs. We get some benefits that the varsity programs get, like more funding."

According to Zimmerer, an opportunity to face some NCAA Division One opponents in friendly competition is supposed to be provided this year.

Zimmerer claims that making the hockey club a varsity program at UC is one of his ultimate goals during his time as president, an ambitious task for a sophomore majoring in finance. As president, he manages the club's budget and spending, garnering some valuable experience along the way. Collecting said the financial experience was a big part of Zimmerer's decision to become president of the Ice Hockey Club.

"They needed someone to step up, and I've liked to be a leader my whole life," he said. "The last president did an amazing job for the team so I just kind of learned from him, and he taught me well."

President or not, being a member of the Ice Hockey Club requires no small amount of dedication. The team usually gets together for either practices or gamedays six days out of the week.

With only 60 NCAA Division One hockey programs in the country, the club and others across the ACHA get some great talent that comes their way, according to Zimmerer. Players remain competitive in a sport they've played much of their lives.

Like many programs across the country, the inability to play this semester has left many players feeling shortchanged. Most notably, the seniors who've had their final years stripped away from them.

Akin to how senior athletes in the NCAA have been offered to extend their eligibility, the hockey club seniors have been offered the same. Although, some players within the club have already taken an extra year to play with the team. Consequently, the extended eligibility will not be offered to them, spelling the end of the line for several people representing the red and black on the ice.

Zimmerer claims he has yet to hear from UC concerning when they will be permitted to return to play, whether that's in the spring semester or even further down the line. Yet, the president remains hopeful for his organization.

"It'll probably go on into the spring and it's going to suck for us," Zimmerer said. "We're still optimistic, see what happens. But, you know, if it doesn't, we'll probably have to wait until next year, unfortunately."