“It was awesome,” said Danny Gronseth, the captain of Wheaton’s Ice Hockey Club team. “At our first games, it was just a surreal feeling [to be playing again].”
Gronseth, a junior economics major, began playing club hockey his freshman year. The cancellation of the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 only increased his excitement to get back on the ice this season.
On Sept. 24, in the team’s second game of the season against Bradley University, Gronseth scored a hat trick in the first period and finished the game with 4 goals.
“I felt so many butterflies just because there were a lot of fans, and it was so good to be back,” Gronseth said.
In previous years, the hockey team has competed against schools in higher divisions, but this season they are playing mostly Division III schools, a move the players hope will make them more competitive.
“We haven’t had playoff success in the past, but we think this is the team that can get it done,” said Jack Ryken, a junior majoring in business economics. “Our goal is always to win our conference.”
The hockey team is part of the Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association Bronze Division (MACHA or MACHA Bronze) along with three other schools: Illinois State University (ISU), Northern Illinois University (NIU) and Bradley. Marquette was promoted to the silver division after winning the conference title in 2020.
Despite last year’s canceled season, some players on the team bonded by meeting at Central Athletics Complex Ice Rink in downtown Wheaton. They weren’t able to have organized practices, but they had fun getting together to play pickup.
In his time off from playing organized hockey, Ryken joined the Wheaton men’s swimming team, becoming the only diver on the team. While he enjoyed his time in the water, he says he is glad to be back on the ice.
“I missed having a team striving for the same goal,” Ryken said. “I missed that feeling of competition. I missed that feeling of trying to be the best you can be and trying to catch the guy in front of you.”
Gronseth said, “[Playing hockey at Wheaton] is mostly for fun and to develop a Christ-exalting group of guys and form a ministry with and through them.”
The team played against Purdue University Northwest on Oct. 1 and 2, and Iowa State University on Oct. 8 and 9. Their record thus far is 1-5. However, in conference match-ups they are 1-1.
“I think the biggest thing is that we just love playing hockey together,” Ryken said. “We have so much fun on the bus rides and in the locker room. A lot of teams I’ve played on get excited for games, but this team really gets excited to practice together and to be together, and it’s kind of contagious.”
The team will be back on the ice on Nov. 12, playing against the University of Nebraska in Omaha. You can follow the team on Instagram @wheatonthunderhockey.