West Virginia University is a place I consider home.
Like many of my teammates, I came to this school for more than just hockey. I came here for the education, the family, the experiences and the chance to score a few goals.
WVU has some of the most passionate fans in the country, and many of them are just now discovering ice hockey, a sport they previously haven’t had any experience with.
Despite WVU hockey’s successes in recent years, we still lack the resources and name-recognition afforded to other sports.
A question I get asked a lot is, “Do we really have a hockey team here at WVU?” And my answer is always the same: “Yes, we do.”
We have four teams, including men’s Division I, II and III and women’s Division II.
But the biggest misconception is that we are an NCAA team.
All of our hockey teams play in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). This offers an opportunity for college hockey programs that struggle with large budgets and Title IX issues and serves as an alternative to the NCAA financial structure.
The ACHA comprises more than 500 men's and women's teams from across three divisions and offers a high level of competition for athletes looking to continue playing hockey at the college level. Don’t be fooled though, the ACHA is not as far from the NCAA as fans who are new to the sport may think.
All ACHA games follow the same rules and regulations as the NCAA Division, which is unique across any club sport in the country. This structure means that ACHA and NCAA teams can play against each other, and many schools take advantage of that.
On Jan. 7, the WVU Men’s ACHA Division I team played against Chatham University’s NCAA Division III and has plans to play again next year. Other teams in the ACHA, like Liberty University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas, play against multiple NCAA Division I teams, including Denver University, who won the Men’s NCAA Division I National Championship last year.
Both ACHA and NCAA teams recruit from pools of high school and junior hockey players across North America and Europe.
The biggest difference between our ACHA teams and an NCAA team is the funding from the school. None of our athletes receive any form of scholarship funds from the University.
We schedule our own buses, book our own hotels, hire our own social media/production team and buy our own equipment. The only money we make for the team is from merchandise or ticket sales. But just like all other sports at WVU, they are free with a valid Student ID.
The hockey teams bring more to Morgantown than just hockey with more than 110 non-scholarship athletes, some of which are international students. On the Men’s Division I team alone, we have six students representing Canada, Slovakia and France.
The hockey season lasts from August through March, playing one or two games a weekend while having either on-ice or off-ice practice every day during the week. All of our athletes are full-time students and are studying a range of disciplines from Aerospace Engineering to Health and Well-being.
There has actually been a hockey team at WVU since the creation of the ACHA in 1991. The men’s Division I team most recently went to the ACHA National Tournament in the 2013-2014 season.
The men’s Division II team just won its first-ever ACCHL Championship last weekend and the men’s Division I and III teams are having their best seasons in the past six years.
The WVU women’s team is also having its best season and hopes to punch its first-ever ticket to the ACHA National Tournament since its creation in 2019.
As the sport continues to grow in popularity, in West Virginia, the University should consider further supporting the teams or transitioning the program to become an NCAA-affiliated organization.
We have proven we can win, and the building blocks are there, including a steady fanbase and a new ice arena in Morgantown coming within the next two years. I believe that WVU making the move to dedicate more resources to the team is the obvious next step.
Editor's Note: Wyatt Murphy is a first-year MBA student with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering. He is from Little Canada, Minnesota. Murphy is the captain of the men’s Hockey Division I team.