PNW has brought hockey to the Region — and it’s worked

From The Times of Northwest Indiana

By Noah Bortle

 

HAMMOND — Andrew Remer wasn’t just ready to hang up his skates, he already had.

After two-plus years of the junior hockey grind with stops in Ottawa and Maryland, Remer decided to head back home. A COVID-altered 2020-21 schedule had the Michigan native ready to move on.

He was planning to find somewhere to play college golf. His hockey career was over.

“Then, one morning I woke to a (direct message) from (then Purdue Northwest hockey coach Nick) Tomczyk, ‘Hey, I’m starting something here at PNW. I just took over as head coach and want you to come play for me.'”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Remer’s story is unexpected, but it also meshes perfectly with the improbable rise of Northwest Indiana’s lone college hockey program.

Purdue Northwest launched its hockey program in 2019 as a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division II ranks. The Pride transitioned to the association’s Division I arm for the 2022-23 season.

This season, the Pride rank 11th in the country — the program’s highest ranking in its short history — and have already broken the program record for wins. If PNW keeps playing as well as it has, it looks to be in good shape for a bid to national tournament in St. Louis.

Not bad for a team playing its second season at the Division I level.

Prior to the 2022-23 season, the Pride’s first in Division I, they hired Carl Trosien fresh off a Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League Coach of the Year award at Grand Valley State.

“What we’ve put together for hockey in the ACHA is in the top 2 or 3% as far as funding resources, athletic training resources, strength and conditioning resources,” Trosien said. “So at the end of the day, when I looked at this job, it was very appealing that I felt like were were being set up for success.”

One of the reasons PNW is afforded such resources is the fact the program is operated by the school’s athletic department, unlike most other programs that operate more like a club sport.

While the Pride enjoy the benefits of funding and facilities that rival most NCAA hockey programs, Trosien was faced with the challenge of building a new program in Indiana — not exactly known as a hockey hotbed. That’s meant PNW recruits largely out of state to build its roster.

The Pride have players from all corners of the U.S. including New York, Texas, Washington and even Alaska. They feature a large Canadian contingent and even sport Sweden’s Elias Johansson.

“I think it’s really cool, the melting pot that we have in this program,” senior wing Craig Herman said. “It’s really, really cool to see all these people and see what their experience was like growing up. Hearing about a kid’s come up from Sweden — I mean that was incredibly different from what I had experienced.

“At the end of the day, we’re all hockey players too and I think that always brings the bond really tight and this group especially.”

Most of PNW’s sports recruit heavily from the area. The roster’s are dotted with area high school stars and players from the Chicagoland area. Not the hockey team, though. So, why has a team with next to no local players also been one of the most well-attended teams in its entire conference?

“Something that the coaches look for is making sure we’re getting to be a part of the community more than just being a hockey team,” sophomore goaltender Cooper Olson said.

That means the bartender at the rink and Olson’s neighbors are regulars at Pride home games. It also means regular volunteer work and involvement in the community at large.

For the past two years, PNW has worked with Team Impact, an organization that connects people with disabilities to college teams, allowing them to be part of the program. The team can also be found at local elementary schools, reading to school children.

The team also owns a team GPA of 3.44, best by a men’s sport at PNW. What makes the feat even more impressive is fact that much of the roster played juniors, meaning when they entered college, it had been a year or two since they were last in a classroom in high school.

On Tuesday, the Kube will again play host to the hockey community the Pride have built as the PNW hosts Roosevelt at 6:35 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the GHCHL Playoffs.

“The boys want to win conference,” Trosien said. “We also know that conference goes through Adrian, who is the No. 2-ranked team in the land.”

The Pride enter the postseason with one of the country’s most lethal combinations of goal-scoring and goaltending.

Junior wing Sam Bourdages leads Division I in scoring with 58 points. His 26 goals on the year are also just one shy of the national lead.

Between the pipes, Olson ranks fourth in DI in goals against average, allowing just 2.37 goals per game, and second in the nation in wins with 18.

“I think if you want to say one thing about our team and that’s all you can say, it’s that we’re really hard working,” Remer said. “A lot of driven, dedicated guys. We’ll play teams that have more skill than us, but our record goes to show how far that work ethic has gone.”

Regardless of what happens in this year’s postseason, what’s happening now — what’s being built in Hammond — is not normal.

“It’s so special,” Herman said. “This is my fourth year here. This isn’t an area where you would expect hockey to flourish, but I think PNW has brought that here.

“Being part of that and building the program to have a strong foundation for years and years to come is really special.”

(Originally published at https://www.nwitimes.com/sports/college/hockey/men/purdue-northwest-acha-hockey-region-hammond-glchl/article_716a9c1e-c798-11ee-9232-d78616690a41.html)