By Dillion Baumchen and Grace Buller
Calvin University offers two different club hockey teams that compete in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) at the Division I (DI) and Division III (DIII) levels respectively.
Calvin, like most schools in the state, competes with ACHA rather than the NCAA; Calvin’s other sports participate in the NCAA. According to James Timmer, Calvin’s athletic director, the choice to play in ACHA compared to NCAA was largely a pragmatic one. There are 13 other schools with DIII teams in ACHA’s Michigan Collegiate Hockey Conference. As for the DI team, six out of the other eight teams in the Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey Conference (GLCHC) are Michigan-based teams. In contrast, if the teams played in the NCAA, “We’d be all the way out to Minnesota and out east, and so there’s some additional costs that go with that,” Timmer said.
Calvin’s DIII hockey team has been playing since 1973; a DI team was added in 2017. Timmer told Chimes that meeting student demand was a factor in Calvin’s decision to expand to a second team. “There’s more people college age or just above — that is, 18 to 24 — wanting to play hockey than there are opportunities for them to play hockey,” said Timmer.
According to Christopher Perry, ACHA communication manager, “It is very common for an institution to have multiple ACHA teams, whether it be men’s and women’s teams, multiple men’s or multiple women’s teams or all of the above.”
Despite being a club sport, Calvin University attempts to treat them as close to varsity sports as possible.
“We try to treat them as close to all of our other athletes as possible. It’s the unique aspect of Calvin hockey, in that it’s a club sport but we treat it as close to a varsity sport as possible,” says athletic director James Timmer.
The Division I team coached by Micheal Petrusma is made up of players who primarily played junior hockey after high school but before coming to Calvin. Junior hockey is the next step after high school for most elite players: once they reach 20 years old, they age out of junior hockey and either get drafted or go play college-level hockey.These players come to Calvin as 20-21-year-old freshmen and many of them come from outside of the country, with players from Canada, Russia and Sweden amongst other places.
The Division III team is coached by Calvin alum Austin Huizenga, a member of both the DIII and DI teams during his college career. According to Timmer, it is “a little more kids who went straight from high school to college.” Huizenga began on the DIII team his freshmen year. Calvin introduced its DI team during his sophomore season (2017-18), and he then played DI his final three seasons.
While movement between teams is uncommon during the season, it can happen between seasons. According to Austin Huizenga, there have been two to three players who have made the jump from DIII to DI each season. Timmer also said a few players moved down from DI to DIII this year, “largely because of a good recruiting class.” However, players can’t jump from divisions while in season.
After spending the past 3 years as an assistant coach for the DI team, Huizenga finds himself back where with the DIII team, and his team of Knights ranked number 15 in the national rankings his first year as head coach. “We’re ranked 15th and obviously want to be higher,” sophomore Gabriel Sovas told Chimes. “We know that we can be better and I know we can be higher in the rankings.”
Off the ice, the DIII team has gotten along well too. “It’s more about the people that are there, because how they welcome you. And it’s a super tight group that all get along and have a lot of fun together; that’s the most important thing,” Sovas said.
Sovas noted that while he is aware of the stigma surrounding the hockey team, he wants to change the narrative around Calvin’s players.“There’s like a stigma that hockey guys aren’t like the friendliest or welcoming, and I kind of want to get rid of that around campus, because I think that all the guys on the team are great and super nice and respectful,” Sovas told Chimes.
(Originally published at https://calvinchimes.org/2023/11/13/calvins-di-and-diii-hockey-teams-whats-the-difference-and-who-are-they/#)