When you think of ice hockey, you probably think of Canada or the 1980 US Olympic hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice.” Hockey is a global sport however, and it has a history in Louisiana. There have been several minor league teams throughout the state, including New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Shreveport, as well as a few college club teams. One such team is full of LSU Tigers.
LSU has fielded an ice hockey team for a total of five seasons. A founding member of the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference, LSU Ice Hockey fights out of its home rink, Leo’s Iceland, and grinded to a 4-10 record this year, earning the club its first playoff berth.
“Last year was our first year back officially, and it was pretty rough for these guys,” coach Jonathan Kaehrer said.
The Tigers, for reasons unclear to most of the current players and staff, forfeited their 2011 season after an 0-15 start. The Tigers went winless last year (0-22).
“Fast forward to now, we’re going to play in the SEC tournament,” Kaehrer said. “It’s been a huge turnaround, real quick.”
The Tigers are a small, underfunded club team, and play lots of teams with actual backing from their schools as tune-ups or rent-a-wins. Everyone knows the deal, but the Tigers go out every time and hang with teams with bigger rosters and more staff on a regular basis.
“We’re focusing more on the SEC guys,” says Kaehrer.
A native of Lafayette, Kaehrer made it clear that LSU is a program that can compete, but it has the odds stacked against them.
Even in the SEC, teams like Arkansas, Alabama and Vanderbilt have more funding and more reach into colder states where hockey is more traditional, even offering scholarships to more elite talent. LSU has no such advantage.
A lot of this goes back to the 2011 season. There’s a thread on TigerDroppings.com a mile long about that season with the LSU faithful mocking the forfeit, and while the current team features virtually none of the players from 2011, the current effort gets a similar pan from many online and in person.
That failure to uphold the dignity of the Fighting Tiger name in 2011 drives this team, most of whom had no part in that doomed season.
“My friends send me the links to it,” junior Goalie Devin Drouant states. As an alternate captain of the team, Drouant tries to keep his focus on the now, but understands this team is fixing a reputation they had no part in making.
Drouant was born and raised in Jefferson, just outside of New Orleans, and has been playing hockey for over 20 years.
“Last year we didn’t have the depth or the talent we do this year,” Drouant said. “We literally brought 12 people [to play Mississippi State] last year, and that includes two goalies. When you’re looking at that, you’re losing 12-0 because you’re getting 120 shots on goal. And that was about average last year.”
Captain Tyler Chaves was born in Lafayette but forged his skills playing high school hockey in Massachusetts and Maine. Chaves returned to Louisiana after injuries derailed his promising career.
LSU Ice Hockey is made up of young men from all over, but plenty of the 22-man roster features Louisiana natives. As the team gets more serious, however, it’s following LSU football coach Les Miles’ recruiting strategy of keeping one foot in Texas.
With an NHL team in the Dallas Stars, plenty of Texas Tigers hear about the new club team and go out for it. It’s the best pipeline the club has, unlike Tulane, which has lots of students coming from up north.
“It’s a brother-brother type conflict,” said Kaehrer about the Green Wave.
Green Wave flags hang next to purple and gold banners in the LSU’s home arena, with the Tulane team travelling from New Orleans to practice and host games, something that does not sit well with members of LSU Ice Hockey.
“It’s like 80 percent kids from the Northeast. Ivy League hacks who couldn’t make it, so they went down and spent daddy’s money in New Orleans,” Kaehrer said.
It takes a lot of passion to play this game, even more so in the Deep South. Rink time costs almost $1,000 to rent for games, meaning LSU has to play most of its games are on the road, contributing to the poor record.
Despite the travel, the expenses, and the losses, spirits stay high. The team is looking forward to their first playoff game in Nashville, Tennessee this weekend.
“We’ll be playing Arkansas first, and we got spanked by them pretty good this season already,” said freshman defenseman Casey Anderson. “We’re a different team, and we’ll make that clear.”
It’s a common thought for most of the team: non-conference games matter, but beating a SEC rival, and advancing in the playoffs, matters more.
The SECHC, while not officially associated with the best damn college football conference in the nation, is just an extension of those rivalries. LSU Ice Hockey knows that and makes it clear all the passion that goes into those rivalries translates to the ice.
LSU’s next home game is against Middle Tennessee State University on Feb. 12 and 13. Follow the LSU Ice Hockey Facebook page for precise location and time.