Let’s get this out of the way right up top: Yes, KU has a hockey team. It’s not varsity competition, but it is the next-highest level, University-sponsored club sports, which compete against teams from other schools. As documented a year ago in Kansas Alumni magazine, the hockey ‘Hawks, who play in Independence, Missouri, have made a mighty resurgence, and this season has been their best yet.
The Jayhawks completed their American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 3 schedule 20-0-1, capped by a two-game sweep at the U.S. Air Force Academy Feb. 1 and 2. Next up: a pride game against Division 2 Mizzou, Feb. 21 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
“Mizzou has been struggling all year,” says junior Jimmy Samuels, KU’s club president, “but they’re going to be a whole new team when they step on the ice against Kansas, and we’re not going to hold back, either. It’s much more than just a game. It’s a historic college rivalry and we’re one of the few sports that gets to continue that tradition.”
The ice ‘Hawks feature two of the ACHA’s top-10 scorers, who both hail from Overland Park: sophomore Dane Johnson, who has a dazzling 38 goals and 30 assists in 19 games, and junior linemate Dawson Engle, with 28 goals and 34 assists in 21 games. Close behind is hard-charging team leader Preston McConnell, a senior from Liberty, Missouri, who sports 16 goals and 21 assists in 17 games.
“Give a lot of credit to [coach Andy McConnell, j’16],” Samuels says. “He really analyzed each line and their chemistry. He has matched each line with their speed, chemistry, passing abilities, positioning, everything. Every line has great potential to produce amazing plays.”
KU and Mizzou are both depending on strong fan support at the game, which faithfully replicates the intense border contests of old. The ‘Hawks, however, also need fan and alumni support to help them travel their next challenge: the ACHA playoffs.
If, as expected, KU is awarded a bye for the first round of regionals, KU would likely head to the Division 3 finals in Frisco, Texas, at the end of March.
KU’s club sports fund awarded the hockey team $9,000 for its $60,000 annual budget at the start of the season, with the rest being covered by players, their families, and a few faithful supporters. Now the Jayhawks are looking at a likely bill of $15,000 to rent a team bus to travel to and from Texas, secure hotel rooms and buy meals.
They have raised $6,000, and are asking fellow Jayhawks to assist the hard-earned journey by contributing through a GoFundMe account. All donations go directly to the club’s account at KU Endowment.
KU-Mizzou T-shirts will be available at the Feb. 21 game, as will team hats and pucks. Team officials are still working with vendors to produce a KU hockey game jersey available for purchase, but that won’t happen soon enough to help cover expenses for the Texas trip.
Samuels says players and their families will have to cover any budgetary shortfalls for the trip to nationals; should there be a surplus, any remaining funds would carry over and help alleviate player costs next season.
“It’s been a crazy ride the past few months,” Samuels says. “It’s been awesome, and there’s still more to come.”
Photo: KU hockey’s leading scorers, sophomore Dane Johnson (19) and junior Dawson Engle (25).
Read more about the KU Hockey team in the January 2018 issue of Kansas Alumni Magazine.