Josh Apple, Connect2Mason Reporter

The word “ice” around George Mason University garners thoughts of the blizzard conditions, the slippery roads and sidewalks around campus and a four-day miniature winter break. However, for 20 Mason students, the word “ice” means only one thing: hockey.

Unbeknownst to most students, the Mason club ice hockey team exists and is on the rise. Unlike the roller hockey team, which was founded just two years ago, the ice hockey squad has been around for about a decade. The club had a slow start but has quickly gained momentum this year in terms of interest and talent level.

Erik Gibbons, a 23-year-old graduate student from Fairfax, said, “Historically, [Mason] has been one of the worst teams in whichever league we play in, that is until this season.”

The team competes in the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference, which is comprised of the Atlantic, Carolina and Colonial Divisions. Mason is in the Atlantic, along with Catholic, JMU, Northern Virginia Community College, Radford, Virginia Military Institute and William & Mary.

The squad is currently fourth out of the eight teams with a conference record of 8-5, including sweeps of NVCC and VMI. Overall, they have a solid record of 8-8. Despite their average standing in the conference, they have the ability and motivation necessary to beat any team on any given night.

“Last year, we ended with just one win, and the season before that we didn’t win any games,” Gibbons said. “But now we have a new coaching staff and we have more wins this season than the entire three years prior.”
Despite their previous struggles, the team is heading in the right direction. With a new coaching staff, the most wins in school history and interest from at least eight new players for next year, the days of one-win seasons are history. Even the attitudes among the players are different this year.

“This is without a doubt the most committed and fun [Mason] team on which I have played,” Gibbons said. “I’m really proud of this team.”

Gibbons has been a solid contributor this year, cashing in with four goals and 10 assists. He learned how to skate when he was just 4 years old, and became a certified hockey referee at the age of 11. He played briefly for Lake Braddock High School before founding Fairfax High School’s squad in 2004.

Matt McVay, 22, out of Fairfax leads the squad statistically. He has contributed 11 goals and nine assists this season. He began playing roller hockey at the age of 6 and converted to the ice at 12. His junior hockey career began when he was 16 and continued into his years at Mason. Most recently, he played for the Virginia Express B Team travel squad. Once he aged out of junior hockey at the age of 20, he began playing for the Patriots. As an experienced competitor, he quickly earned a leadership role on the team.

“This is the first year I took over as team president and we are really headed in the right direction,” McVay said. “We have some good recruits coming in next year and I think we can challenge for the top spots in the league.”

Another major contributor to the team is Chris Shrieves, 22. Not only does he have eight goals, but he has assisted on five others as well. He went to his first Washington Capitals game when he was just 7 years old, and has been playing hockey ever since. He played for Christopher Newport University before transferring to Mason during his junior year. He joined the team during the season last year and says he has loved every minute of it.

“My goal is the same at the beginning of every season no matter what team I’m playing for, and that’s to do whatever I can and need to do to help the team win,” Shrieves said. “At this moment, my goal, and hope, is that we have a good playoff run because we’re coming on at just the right time. I’d love to end my collegiate playing career on a good note.”

Just as much as he would like to have a deep playoff run, Shrieves would like to see more support from the Mason students. He hopes that the Capitals’ recent success will generate more hockey fans in the Washington, D.C. area.

“We’re fielding a playoff caliber team with some great talent, and hockey is such an amazing sport to not only play, but also to watch,” Shrieves said. “I think if the word got around that Mason not only has a team, but also a pretty talented team that plays relatively close to campus, hockey could, and should, be huge here.”

Between the posts for the Patriots are Alex Spitzel, a 22-year-old from Chantilly, and Keelan Carpenter, a 19-year-old out of Chicago. Like Gibbons and Shrieves, Spitzel is in his fourth and final year of eligibility. He began playing hockey when he was 10 years old, and played for Chantilly High School.

“I have so many great memories with these guys, but what I’ll remember the most is the bonding that takes place on road trips in the hotel,” Spitzel said.

The squad plays its games at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Mt. Vernon, Prince William Ice Arena and Reston Skatequest. They have also traveled to Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Richmond and Roanoke within Virginia, as well as several trips to Maryland and North Carolina.

In addition to playing games, the team practices twice each week, typically on Mondays and Wednesdays. The Monday practice is all about running drills, nailing down fundamentals and developing strategies. The Wednesday practice is devoted to scrimmaging to develop chemistry within the lines.

Defenseman Chris Christopher, 19, said, “Our coaches are always challenging us because they know that a hard practice will result in success during games.”

Like many of his teammates, Christopher began playing hockey at an early age. He grew up in a small town in Illinois that had little other than an ice rink. He later moved to Virginia and played for West Springfield High School. He remembers taking a tour of Mason during his high school years and seeing an outdated ice hockey banner in the Johnson Center.

“Although the vast majority of Mason students have no idea that there’s a hockey team, I think many people would be interested if they just saw ‘[Mason] Hockey’ posted somewhere obvious,” Christopher said. “Even some small flyers hung up in the JC or in the field house would catch someone’s attention.”

Although the squad continues to operate below the radar, the future is bright. As the Capitals continue their success and the Winter Olympics roll on in Vancouver, the players feel now is the time to generate support for Mason ice hockey.

“We are too good of a team to ignore at Mason,” Spitzel said. “It’s a fun sport. If we could just market the team better and have people come out to some games, we could have a big fan base and a big name on campus.”

Player forms and contact information can be found on the George Mason Ice Hockey website, Also, there is a “Support GMU Hockey!” page on Facebook with just eight members presently.