A wild ride: graduating hockey Mustangs

Bonding, team unity crucial in creating memories for vets

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Western men's hockey

Jon Purdy

WHACKIN' THEIR WAY THROUGH THE BUSH COMPANY. Locker room unity and gritty performance are just a few reasons why graduating Western hockey players will never forget their experiences.

Almost five years have passed since the current men’s hockey seniors stumbled through the Western gates as wary-eyed pups. For this season’s veterans, it’s been a wild ride.

The men’s hockey team has become a younger, tighter group that has lost ground as a powerhouse in Canadian Interuniversity Sport but gained friendship and experience transcending the importance of university athletics.

For instance, three of this year’s graduating players " defencemen Mike Sellan, Mike McKeown and Chris Eade " live together. They also party together, which, according to players, is a distinct feature of ’Stangs hockey. The three join centre Ryan Hare, winger Steve Benedetti and defenceman Ryan Waldner as the six graduating Mustangs.

According to Benedetti, the players’ closeness is not only a function of common interest and wild parties, but a byproduct of countless hours spent on buses and planes.

“The bus trips are summer-long,” Benedetti says. “At the start of the year you’re playing teams from the NCAA; next year, the guys are going on a road trip to Europe, so the travel schedule is heavy. We’re around each other a lot, so you learn to bond in a hurry.

“That’s the nature of the road, it brings the team together.”

On this year’s team trip to Alaska, bonding was the order of the day.

“[We] played hockey, saw some wilderness, got crushed on dollar drafts at Chilkoot Charlies’ and then headed over to the ‘The Great Alaskan Bush Company’,” says team jokester Sellan.

Episodes like this " however uncommon due to head coach Clarke Singer’s normally tight leash on the team " have established a base of trust that bred team unity and success on the ice. This year’s team members say they’ve had the most fun of their hockey careers while playing at Western.

“[CIS hockey] is more fun than the [Ontario Hockey League] because it’s less competitive for playing time,” Sellan says.

“In the OHL, you have a curfew and scouts coming to the games, so even if you don’t care about [a hockey career] personally, your defence partner still wants to get drafted, so you can’t just throw him under the bus.

“Here, if [Mike] McKeown or [Chris] Eade plays better than me, then I’m happy for them.”

This competitive harmony has created a comfortable environment and a bond that makes them more than just teammates. Not surprisingly, interesting stories are a dime a dozen.

“Sellan decided to [clown around] at the rookie party,” Eade says. “He figured he’d show the rookies how the fourth-year guys party. He had minimal clothes on " on a stationary bike.”

But all good things must come to an end. Coming down the stretch this season, the realization that they are in the twilight of their careers has created a sense of nostalgia among the players.

“In your last season, it’s more trying to push to do something,” Eade says. “I’ve never won a national championship at Western, but we were fortunate enough to win the Queen’s Cup. In your last year, you definitely really think about that.”

Unfortunately the ’Stangs were eliminated in the second round of this year’s Ontario University Athletics playoffs, and won’t have the chance at a coveted national title. But the graduating class of Mustangs men’s hockey doesn’t leave this season empty-handed, as it carries five years of good memories with it.

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