As the Naval Academy basketball team bounces its way to its most successful season in ages, little has been heard about the biggest draw on the campus - the Navy club hockey team.
The program is in its third season and employs no fulltime coaches yet consistently outdraws the basktball team, according to Steve Gordon, a former goalie at Northeastern University who is the Mids' parttime mentor.
Gordon is assisted by Don Blalock, a defenseman with Caravan of the Chesapeake Hockey League whose college career at Wayne State was cut short by a knee injury.
The Mids have a 17-game schedule against other college club and jayvee teams, and thus far are 4-7-2. Among the losses were contests with the Princeton and Army jayvees.
"The kids gave up part of their vacation break (the first time off for the plebes) to make one trip around Christmas," Blalock said. "We practice three times a week and play the games on weekends."
The only Southerner among the 20 players is defenseman Skip Root of Williamsburg, Va., in his third year at Navy. His father is Jim Root, the football coach at William & Mary.
Almost half of the 20-player squad is made up of Massachusetts natives. Two are from Minnesota and New York, the rest from Michigan, St. Louis and Rhode Island.
Another third-year man is goalie Billy Hanna of the Boston area, who came to Navy despite hockey interest shown by Harvard, a top Division I. school, and Army. The hottest, most experienced line is comprised of speedy center Bill Dooley and wings Jim Donehue and Pete Shepard.
But it is a 5-foot-5, 135-pound plebe, eddie O'Callahan, who brings a lilt to Blalock's speech. "I've seen him stand up (to opponents) with his nose to their chests and not back away." Blalock said.
The team is operating on a budget of $2,700, which means for road games "there are no overnight stays." The Academy does have its own rink in Dahlgren Hall, the biggest structure in the Academy.
Gordon said a first-class varsity team would cost $40,000. "And Navy will go first class in everything," he said. "If we go varsity it will be in Division II, not Division III."
"Penn State is interested in forming a league of U.S.-born players only," said Blalock. "That would certainly be the case with us." Other schools he says have shown interest in such a format are the University of Delaware, West Chester (Pa.) State and Rutgers.
The development of readily accessible artificial ice has provided more youths looking for places to play college hockey. Blalock can smile when he says that; his fulltime job is with Rink Design Consultants, whose functionis "the development of readily accessible artificial ice."