The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars to clinch the Stanley Cup on Monday and some Roanoke College students were watching with interest. However, they’d rather be at the LancerLot rink in Vinton lacing up the skates.
The Maroons’ club ice hockey season has been put on ice due to the coronavirus pandemic. They would normally be practicing by now but the season has been moved to the spring, at the earliest.
“It’s a shame because this was going to be the best team we’ve ever had,” said Steve Esworthy, who is an informal advisor to the team while serving as Director of Development for the college. A 1991 graduate of RC, Steve has played hockey all his life and was a member of the club team as a student.
“We’ve had a team off and on since 1985,” said Esworthy. ‘It went away for a while, but six or seven years ago it came back.”
The team, which is a club team and not totally funded by Roanoke College, has been playing in an adult league for the past several years. The teams have players of all ages, including many from the local Express, Raiders, Rebels, etc., who came to the valley to play hockey and ended up staying. You have to be at least 18 years old, but players like former Rebel Pete Shearer continued to participate into their ‘60s.
“It’s basically a beer league,” said Esworthy, who plays in the league and is also a minority owner of the local Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, who are hoping to start their season in December if the pandemic allows. Steve has been playing hockey since he was five years old, growing up watching the Hershey Bears in Pennsylvania. His son Mason, a senior at Salem High School, plays for the Junior Dawgs Valley Youth Hockey team.
Steve was excited for this year’s season, as the Roanoke College team was planning to join the Atlantic Coast College Hockey Association. The Maroons had a schedule of games against other club teams and were put in a conference with High Point, Appalachian State and Radford University. Other teams in their division included American University, William & Mary, Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Mary Washington.
“We were really looking forward to the season,” said Warren Payne, a sophomore goalie from Alexandria, VA. “We had a lot of good players from last year’s freshman class and the interest was there. We could have a really good team.”
Esworthy said most of the players come from New England prep schools or are lacrosse players from the New York-New Jersey area who also play hockey. The team practices and plays games at the LancerLot in Vinton and Steve’s connection to the Rail Yard Dawgs is a big help in getting equipment.
“We have dues of 300 dollars and we get a little money from the school and some from alumni,” said Payne, who is Vice President for program development of the team. “We have a lot of fun.”
The team had over 100 fans show up for a scrimmage against VMI. There were 15 players on last year’s team, including three women, and Payne expected to have at least 20 on the team this year. The team is still looking for a coach, and has a post on the American Hockey Association website hoping to find some interest.
“It’s a student run organization and there’s between 400 and 500 teams nationwide,” said Esworthy. “Right now we’re in Division III but we’d like to compete in Division II. Virginia Tech has a team in Division II.”
Right now they’d just like to compete at any level, but with the pandemic it hasn’t been possible. If the team plays in the spring that could impact the roster with several members playing lacrosse, which is also planning to play next spring.
“We’re hoping to start in late January or early February, but it could be next fall until we’ll be able to play,” said Payne. “We’re all anxious to get back on the ice as soon as we can.”