Last year, George Mason University’s men’s ice hockey team finished fourth in their division and thought they were going to the playoffs – until they found out that only the top three advanced. Shortly thereafter, the team seemed to lose its seriousness. The turnover rate climbed. At the end of the season, the head coach left the team.
Nothing seemed to be going right but recently, things have changed. The roster increased by three players for a new total of 18 skaters. They promoted Steve Hyjek to the head-coaching position, who brought in Tim Sullivan, Bill Elder and Mike Tatavosian as his assistants. They even picked up Jon Roberts, who came from an NCAA D-III school in Connecticut.
“We added new talent without getting rid of much of the core. [Our coach] is a level four out of five, then we have two assistant coaches that are five out of fives,” said Jordan Shahin, returning for his fourth year.
Now the team is playing in the Atlantic division of the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference and two of the top teams from their division are moving to the Colonial division. “We would consider anything but a first-place finish [as] a failure for the first time in our history,” said Shahin.
Their rivals are College of William & Mary and, surprisingly, Northern Virginia Community College. Although Mason beat NOVA twice last year, NOVA is improving and may become a threat this year. The Patriots will be in a fight for first with the Tribe, who are considered one of the best teams in the conference.
The team is given nearly $12,000 annually to help find sites for team practice and matches. They practice at Reston SkateQuest, which costs $300-$500 every occasion, and play their games at the Ashburn Ice House, which costs $1,000 every game. “The rink we used to play at last year, in Prince William [County], collapsed in the snow,” said Shahin, or the events would be held there.
Each coach works with a different position. Sullivan is coaching the three goalies – two more than the lone man they had last year. Elder works with the defenders, Hyjek works with the forwards, and Tatavosian, a graduate student, works with the players on strength and conditioning.
“That’s the biggest thing: the commitment level we have from everyone, the players and the coaches, three or four solid freshman players, and the goalies,” said Shahin of why he thinks the season will turn out well.
The team has 10 home games, nine of which are in the fall, starting on Oct. 9 against NOVA. The coaching staff is working with the Washington Capitals to provide some special incentives for the fans who come out to the home games. Not only is every home game free for students with a Mason ID, but each entry is entered in a raffle to win Capitals memorabilia, including autographed pucks and jerseys signed by Capitals players and coaches.
“This is about all we’ve got left. You’re going to see a war on ice – an absolute bloodbath,” said Shahin.