Updated: Oct 30
By Gino Antimarino
Photo Credit: Maria Kaffes (Instagram: @Mariakaffesimages)
October 20-22 was not just a regular season series against number 17 Pitt. Syracuse hosted its annual alumni weekend for graduates of the men’s club hockey program to come back to the 315 and see not only old teammates, but their old stomping grounds. In the 65th year of Men's Ice Hockey at Syracuse, a variety of graduates made the trip to Central New York to see how much the hockey team has come along. Alumni from as far back as 1965, showed their support and did not waste any time explaining how good players have it now. While some as recent as last year came to reminisce of the not-so-distant past.
Mackenzie Murphy was the captain last year for the Orange and shouldered as much of the workload off the ice as he did on. The Newhouse graduate was the social media manager for the team as well as a content creator and the team’s president. Despite the struggles he went through to balance everything, Murphy recognized that the alumni had it way worse.
“It means a lot (to have once held the responsibility as Syracuse’s team captain). Especially when you come to an event like this and you know that the guys in my position 20 years ago were player-coaches. As hard as it was being the captain and being the club president and going through that work, I mean these guys were doing even more work than that… We’re doing league emails now and they were sending letters by mail to PO boxes. Just learning the history, it gives you a deeper appreciation for it when you get to put on the ‘C’.”
ACHA hockey has often been stigmatized in comparison to the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) because club hockey is considered by many to be lower quality. As funding continues to increase and more players decide to play for a degree rather than just a sport, that margin of skill dwindles. Syracuse already has renowned academics, but the university has started to gain notoriety from its men’s American College Hockey Association (ACHA) team, as well.
“There’s a lot of history in the program,” Murphy explained. “Division III hockey programs, you don’t get stuff like this. And Syracuse is a well-known school. They say Orange-mafia with the alumni all the time. You get that, you get a rink on campus, you now have a locker room, you get the best jerseys in the ACHA. There’s a lot of pros to coming to Syracuse so I hope hockey players growing up see that. And I’ve been saying this since I stepped foot on campus, ‘This is going to be a destination place for a lot of college hockey players.’”
“I was an older freshman,” said Jack Wren, sophomore forward on the hockey team. “ I played two years of junior hockey so at the end of my junior career, I was left with a couple of lower level NCAA options. If I’m being honest, I didn’t have my best year that I played. But I could have gone that route which I was very highly considering… I really took a step back and I was like, ‘As important as hockey is to me, there is also an emphasis on academics, as well. That’s going to take me much further in life than hockey is’… So I decided to come to Syracuse with a top-50 business school in the country and play, again, respectable hockey, with an organization that actually cares about me, (which) was more important to me than having that NCAA title.”
Aside from comparisons of which is a more respectable brand of hockey, one thing is for certain: the bonds that are formed amongst teammates are equally as impenetrable. Between the long practices and the weekends spent together, the players develop a bond with each other that will exceed their playing careers. Just ask the alumni who came back to the program after graduating 45 years ago.
“The comradery with these guys was amazing, more than probably most teams I played with,” said Vic DiMaria, student and player for Syracuse from 1976-79. “I mean, we just gelled. I was amazed at how we just gelled that first season and won that championship and then continued on to the second year and won another championship… When we got on that ice, it felt like a family. Like we knew each other forever.”
Senior forward Sam Hutchinson feels that same connection with his teammates in 2023.
“I’m so privileged (to be Syracuse’s alternate captain). To be in the position where your team is cool with you being the guy who wears the ‘A’ is just a special thing. So I don’t take it lightly at all… Despite the ‘A’, we have leaders up and down the lineup. So I couldn’t be who I am without the other guys on the team.”
Along with the weekend festivities, DiMaria and seven other alumni became members of the SU Men’s Hockey Hall of Fame. A banquet following Saturday’s afternoon matchup against Pittsburgh honored the inductees for the hard work and dedication they put into making the program what it is today.
“Not a lot of programs around the country are doing what Syracuse hockey is doing,” Murphy added. “The fact that we get to do this, get all the alumni back together, it was one of my favorite weekends as a player. And to come back as an alumni is even better. It just shows where the program is going and how much history there is.”