If you thought the rivalry between the University of Texas and Texas A&M had been permanently put on ice, you are correct. Tonight, the two schools face off in, you guessed it, hockey.
As Adam Winkler of Austin’s KEYE-TV first noted, this weekend’s home-and-home (tonight in College Station, tomorrow in Cedar Park) “is believed to be the first athletic event between the Aggies and UT since Texas A&M split for the SEC July 1st.”
It’s club hockey, meaning, no NCAA, no scholarships and no school-provided athletic budget, played at the Division 2 level of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. Texas State, UTSA, SMU, UNT, Dallas Baptist and TCU also skate in that division.
But while the Horned Frogs may be the Longhorns’ new Thanksgiving Big 12 football rival, UT’s hockey players are still all about the Aggies, and vice-versa.
“We hate A&M,” Longhorns right wing Joseph Halford told KEYE’s Winkler. “Ever since they left the Big 12 and they’re going to the SEC for football, this is our one chance we get to pound on these guys.”
“We are really excited about continuing the rivalry with the Longhorns,” A&M captain and junior forward Hayden Pritchard told the TM Daily Post. “The rivalry means so much to Aggies and to this school as a whole. It is a tradition, at a school that revolves around traditions, that we, as a team, take it upon ourselves to carry on.
“The atmosphere in practice in the week leading up to the games against Texas and the atmosphere in the locker room before those games is just different,” Pritchard added. “We sing the fight song after every home victory and there is something special about “sawin’ varsity’s horns off” while the orange and white can hear it.”
University club hockey’s growth in Texas has run parallel with the existence of the Dallas Stars, giving kids who grew up playing youth and high school hockey in the state a chance to keep on skating at the college level.
UT’s team has been around for 12 years, and will play most of its games this season at the Cedar Park Center, home of the Dallas Stars’ American Hockey League affiliate the Texas Stars. The two teams have also played each other at the American Airlines Center, before and after Dallas Stars games.
A&M’s squad formed officially in 2001, but had to have all of its games and practices in Austin and Houston prior to the opening of College Station’s Arctic Wolf Ice Center in 2005. The Aggies also have their own all-female booster and marketing organization, the Aggie Icers.
“The UT games are always packed,” says Aggie Icers vice president Kaitlyn McConnell, a junior history major. “There is a unexplainable spirit in the air. The boys always seem to hit harder, play tougher, and get a little more rowdy out on the ice. The fans feed off this energy and everybody seems to be more connected to the game.”
The two schools will actually play each other a total of eight times this year, so admittedly, these first two games are not exactly consuming either campus.
“During football season, the majority of the talk is about the football team,” acknowledges A&M team president and goaltender Tony Girard. “But we have heard from our fans that they are glad we kept the rivalry going.”
With A&M playing in Oxford, MS Saturday, Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin tweeted his regrets to McConnell.
— R. Bowen Loftin ’71 (@aggieprez) October 4, 2012
A&M swept the season series last year and has taken home the “Pride of Texas Cup,” (below), which is awarded to the winner of an annual challenge game, for six straight years.
Happily, there’s almost no chance that the Aggies will replace the Horns (or any other Texas team) with any schools from its new NCAA conference, both because of travel/money issues and because there are no SEC schools in the ACHA’s Division 2 (such schools as Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee are all currently in Division 3, which is for smaller schools and newer programs).
“As a growing organization, this would be a step backwards for us,” says Pritchard. “And fans still like to see the Aggies play the good old in-state rivals, which makes it fun and different from the NCAA sports.”
The only bad news here – neither Texas A&M nor UT is anywhere near as good as the University of Oklahoma, which has only had a program for 10 years, but has already turned itself into top-ranked team at the ACHA Division 1 level. The Sooners manhandled the Aggies in two games last weekend, which looked bad on the scoreboard, but with the season barely underway, that probably means A&M is more tested than UT is.
The puck drops tonight at Arctic Wolf Ice in College Station at 7:30 p.m., followed by a quick turnaround to Cedar Park for a 1 p.m. contest on Saturday.