Oakland athletics have had their share of success, whether it be the three NCAA tournament appearances men’s basketball has made or the championship success of the university’s swimming and diving teams. But athletic success extends beyond that of the 16 NCAA Division I sports to the club sports Oakland offers.
One of these club sports made its way to the finals of a national tournament last year, and hopes to make another run this season.
Division I hockey at Oakland begins their season Friday night at Kent State University. With Head Coach Jeremy Bachusz at the helm for his fourth season, the Golden Grizzlies look to build upon the success of last season.
“The tradition of Oakland hockey, in my eyes, is that we have always been a hardworking team,” Bachusz said. “Because of the success we had early on, we’ve been able to build a team around players that fit into that type of mold. They come in knowing what to expect knowing that we expect to compete nationally every year. That’s the type of mentality we compete with.”
Oakland hopes to continue to grow their tradition with the competition present in the Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League, in which they play, as well as with their chief rivals in Davenport over the coveted “Good Luck Duck” Trophy.
The Golden Grizzlies play a series of five games every year against the Davenport Panthers for a duck trophy, painted in the previous winner’s colors. The first series played this season for the duck is Oct. 28 and Nov. 2, with each team playing at home. The winner of the duck has gone on to make a run for a national championship every year.
“We have to play a tough game against (Davenport),” Bachusz said. “We have fun with it and the coaching staff (of both teams) get along very well, but obviously on the ice we want to win.”
This “luck” held true last season after winning the rivalry series, as Oakland made it into the ACHA National Championship final against third-ranked Delaware. Finishing the season in second place, the Grizzlies garnered a lot of attention after defeating top-ranked Penn State in the semifinals, the Nittany Lion Icers last game before heading to the NCAA this season.
“We became more of a family,” said sophomore defenseman Dustin Hopfner. “I felt like the more we ended up winning big games, the more confidence we grew.”
Bachusz won the 2012 GLCHL Coach of the Year award after last season’s performance.
Freshman forward Patrick Smiatacz attributes last season’s success to the outstanding performances of the Oakland players, a reason why he decided to join the team.
“We have a lot of great players,” Smiatacz said. “I’m sure if we put in the effort and become a family this year, there’s no reason we can’t make a national title run.”
With the season beginning Friday, Oakland is preparing for a hard road ahead of them. The Grizzlies’ will be crossing the country quite a bit and playing against opponents they may not be too familiar with.
Bachusz said a handful of teams they play this season could be ranked in the top 10 this season. Opponents include familiar GLCHL foes along with Liberty, Arizona State, Florida Gulf Coast and Oklahoma.
Oklahoma will play one game against Oakland at the ONYX Ice Arena, the Golden Grizzlies’ home ice, Jan. 6 in what could perhaps be their toughest and largest challenge of the season.
Additionally, the Golden Grizzlies will face Arizona, who is coached by Sean Hogan, former Oakland head coach. Hogan coached Oakland from 2005 to 2009, where he led the Grizzlies to a Division II national title in 2006 and then upon entering Division I, won the ACHA National Title in 2007. In his tenure at Arizona, Oakland has developed a friendly rivalry with their former coach.
Oakland’s home opener is Saturday, as Kent State travels back to Rochester Hills, Mich. for the second game in the opening series of the weekend for the Golden Grizzlies.
“Come out and watch us play,” Bachusz said. “We have great student athletes who work as hard as they can; they play a hard hockey game.”
The puck drops Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at the ONYX Ice Arena, with tickets priced at $2 for any student with an I.D.
Contact Sports Editor Damien Dennis via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on him on Twitter @djdennisOU