Eastern ice hockey: the sport that wasn’t

Forward+Aadan+Plank+%289+in+maroon%29+takes+a+face-off+in+a+game+against+Cherokee.+

Tiana Cyrelson

Forward Aadan Plank (9 in maroon) takes a face-off in a game against Cherokee.

   There are four major sports in the United States (soccer is arguably the fifth, and closing in on fourth): basketball, baseball, football, and ice hockey. The first three all  have Eastern-affiliated programs—while  ice hockey is an independent  club team that has no ties to the school whatsoever. 

    This leads to the question:why is ice hockey not an Eastern sport? It’s an incredibly nuanced situation that spans across multiple superintendents who have refused to link the team with the school. 

   The varsity team has done well in the past; in 2016, an overtime winner saw the Vikings beat Kingsway 4-3 to claim the South Jersey High School Hockey League Tier 1-B Championship, and the team today draws in decent-sized crowds. 

   However, previous superintendents have branded the sport “too dangerous,” and refused to officially affiliate the team with the school. This is interesting, as it’s arguable that football is just as dangerous as hockey thanks to the consistent physical contact between opposing players (in fact, football causes more concussions per 10,000 athletes than ice hockey as per Norton Healthcare).

   Plus, hockey runs in the area’s veins; the Flyers’ practice rink, the Flyers Training Center, is right down the block from Eastern, and many past and present Flyers live in the area. We’ve even produced an NHLer, as Montreal Canadiens goalie Cayden Primeau (son of former Flyer Keith Primeau) is from Voorhees. 

  It’s hard to see the rationale of why a sport as regionally-popular as ice hockey isn’t a school-sanctioned sport. Both ice and ball hockey draw hundreds of players from the area, and it could be a tremendously popular sport attendance-wise as well, potentially drawing crowds similar to that of football games due to the sport’s high-energy play. 

   Goaltender Max Brzozowski sees the team’s lack of affiliation as the team’s biggest obstacle. “For the organization as a whole, it’s been a challenge to operate without the legitimacy of being a school sanctioned sport,” he said. “However, this challenge has presented a unique opportunity for us to grow together as a group and to build a community—an opportunity I believe we have capitalized on.”

   A lack of funding has presented itself as another challenge for the team. 

 “Because Eastern hockey isn’t affiliated with the school, it makes it harder to get students to the game,” winger Sean Pomerantz said. “It has affected the funding, especially this year because we are short on kids that signed up, so we don’t have enough funding for practice.”

   The fact of the matter is the hockey team has to pay out of their own pocket for the most expensive youth sport in the United States. Eastern has a very large sports fund, which is what you’d expect from a large-sized school with a history of athletic excellence. If the ice hockey team was to be affiliated with the school, they’d get portions of that funding, which they desperately need.

   Eastern isn’t the only school that has an unaffiliated ice hockey team; local rivals like Cherokee and Shawnee have them as well. They’re all in the same league as other club teams, so none of these programs are directly affiliated with the schools, even though they’re comprised of students who go to said schools and have fans from their schools who attend games.

   Overall, it’s easy to find the positives of the school recognizing the team as one of its own. The profits from selling tickets to the games could be massive as the hockey team looks for the audience it wants. The funding that the school could provide would not only keep the program afloat, but allow them to buy better equipment and afford practices to bring the best product out on the ice when they play. 

   In the meantime, go ahead and watch the Eastern ice hockey team play. It’s worth it.