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When You Think Ole Miss Sports, You Think Hockey, Right?

Ole Miss Hockey Team (photo courtesy of team)
Ole Miss Hockey Team (photo courtesy of team)

Ole Miss Hockey players may be the most dedicated and yet least appreciated team athletes at Ole Miss. Many in the Ole Miss community may be surprised to learn that this team has gone to “Nationals” three of the last four years. That is, they have achieved a place among the best in their region at the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) tournament, making the final four in their region. The U.S. is divided into four ACHA regions with a total of about 150 teams.

Senior goaltender, Josh Hukill (photo courtesy Ole Miss Hockey)
Senior goaltender, Josh Hukill (photo courtesy Ole Miss Hockey)

The team complement of up to 30 players each year has a budget of more than $100,000 annually. Ice rental alone accounts for more than $30,000. Team members are entirely responsible for this annual budget which they pay through dues of $2000 per player, engaging in fund raising events, and getting financial support from community members and businesses such as “The Library Sports Bar” in Oxford. John Desler, owner of The Library, is a major benefactor.

“Without his help, the team could not exist” says Angelo Rosena, team’s general manager. During recruiting drives by the hockey team Desler covers much if the expenses according to Rosena. Other major expenses that must be covered are equipment, uniforms, transportation to away games and hotels. The team is run by five student-player board members, including a general manager and treasurer. The team gets no funding from the university.

The team plays 25-30 games per year from September to mid-March. The Mid-South Ice House in Oliver Branch, Mississippi is their home ice for all but a few games that are played at the BancorpSouth Area in Tupelo. The biggest game of the year is usually the match with rival Mississippi State. And yet they still make time to give back to the community, like running a two week hockey summer camp for young kids in Memphis.

It is clear, in talking with faculty advisor and Professor of Journalism Nancy Dupont, that in her experience she sees every player as having incredible passion for the game. “I have become a dedicated fan of theirs. I have traveled with them to regular season games and have been with them during all three of their national tournaments in Missouri, Florida and Alabama” said Dupont. She has been a fan of the team since she her first year as faculty advisor back in 2009.

Angelo Rosena, photo by Edward Connolly
Angelo Rosena, photo by Edward Connolly

As witness to that team player dedication Dupont said, “The number one challenge to the team is traveling out of town to practice. No other team on the campus has to go 50 miles away … to practice the sport. That is amazing to me. And they have to practice until 10 or 11 at night”. They have to keep their studies up, there’s not a lot of free time in their schedules. That is unusual dedication; and then add in the part where they have to pay to play! So that means they have to have extremely dedicated families that support them.”

It shows that the players truly take ownership of the team.

Angelo Rosena, team’s general manager and a former player, is a Recreation Administration major at University of Mississippi who hails from Hamilton, New Jersey. He has been playing hockey since he was, shall we say, not quite as tall as a hockey stick. He started playing street hockey when he was about 11 years old. Then one Christmas his folks gave him a pair of hockey skates, and he’s been on the ice pretty much continuously ever since. He played in travel leagues, “rec’” leagues, and throughout high school. He said his parents had to drive him to practices at 4:30 a.m. during his high school years and to away games all over New Jersey. After high school he was determined to continue playing hockey so in searching for colleges he found Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York. That part of upstate New York is a hockey Mecca, with two minor league teams in the area.

Rosena says he loved his years at HVCC. “They had a great field house (hockey arena), we had our own locker rooms, medical facilities and all of our equipment and other expenses were covered, once we made the team”. He said during his years at Hudson Valley they traveled to and toured Lake Placid, site of the 1980 Olympics “Miracle on Ice”, and played a team in nearby Saranac Lake.

After HVCC he entertained thoughts of continuing his hockey playing at Mississippi State, Central Florida, and UNLV, but finally chose Ole Miss. He said the guy who recruited him to come here, Colin Knight, really convinced him it would be a great place to play. Rosena played Ole Miss Hockey until an injury caused him to quit active playing a couple of years ago. He then became the assistant coach; head coach and is now General Manager. The newly created position of General Manager became necessary due to the teams growth. He estimates that, during the season, he spends 15-20 hours per week on hockey related work while still keeping up with his studies.

Cameron Cook, photo by Edward Connolly
Cameron Cook, photo by Edward Connolly

Cameron Cook is an International Marketing Communications grad student at Ole Miss. He also got his undergrad in Broadcast Journalism at U.M. He is from Long Hill, New Jersey. Cook played out his eligibility (last year) at Ole Miss and now handles all of the social media and broadcasting of the games – “streaming over the web to the world”, as he puts it. The team has about 2800 twitter follows and more on “Periscope”, a live video streaming platform. .” He said he spends an average of 20-35 hours per week on team related activities.

“Ever since I could walk my dad put me on ice skates … . I played house league since I was 7 years old, played travel (league), and played throughout high school before coming to Ole Miss” Cook recalls.

He said that, given that hockey is a club sport, “the time and dedication you have to spend on the sport makes it special.” The fact that he and Angelo Rosena were impressed to come to Ole Miss for hockey by the same person, Colin Knight, shows the importance of recruiting top players who are also willing to pay their own way.

Cook likes the thought that in future years, after he has left school – as Colin Knight has, he can look back and see how much the team has grown and progressed and know that he has been part of that. Cameron said players actively support every team here at Ole Miss, not just hockey.

In the words of Rosena the team has great pride in wearing the Ole Miss uniform when playing on the road “We want to reflect our pride in the school when we travel to other areas of the country.”

Justin Ragland (photo courtesy Ole Miss Hockey)
Justin Ragland (photo courtesy Ole Miss Hockey)

So what comes after Ole Miss? Cook wants to play professional hockey in the U.S. or in Europe. “If that doesn’t happen my goal is to work for either a sports broadcasting company or a professional team; hopefully in hockey.” He said he has been talking to a producer at NBC sports that covers hockey. Rosena would eventually like to become a coach or athletic director at a college or university.

Looking back was it all worth it? “Absolutely, I’d do anything to play hockey. If it means spending hours driving to and from practice – I’m there” said Cook. There are no slackers on the team – if you can’t suit up for a game you’re not going to continue as an active player.

Faculty advisor Nancy Dupont said emphatically that students and the community need to start attending Ole Miss Hockey. She said that her first exposure to hockey, by attending a Montreal Canadiens game when she was a kid made her realize she was looking at the fastest game action she ever witnessed. “That hooked me”, and to Ole Miss students and surrounding community she says “go to one game. You’ll fall in love with it. It’s something Ole Miss people should not miss (and) Ole Miss needs to get behind this team.”

The Ole Miss Hockey season runs September through mid-March. So what do you say folks, let’s get out there, support the team, and give a puck.

For more information, visit the Ole Miss Ice Hockey website: http://olemiss.sechchockey.com/

Edward Connolly is a freelance writer from Saratoga Springs, New York, and a Journalism student at University of Mississippi. He can be reached at Connolly@journalist.com.

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