The fiftieth anniversary of the Saint Vincent College hockey team—the Polar Bearcats— fast approaches in the season of 2019-2020. However, the hockey club has not had an unbroken path leading to the fifty years the team will soon be celebrating.
The hockey club began in 1969 as an idea shared between three Saint Vincent College students: Dick Bienvenue, Bob Farrell and Gerry Hyner. According to Michael Ziemianski’s “Saint Vincent College Hockey Club: Tenth Anniversary Yearbook 1969-1979,” the team made its first debut in the Feb. 6 edition of the 1970 “Review”
in an article by Gerry Hyner titled “Hockey Lives.” The article—preserved in Ziemianski’s book—notes that hockey had made its way to Saint Vincent and listed the coach as Seton Hill psychology professor, David Gray. The article finishes with a plea for the Saint Vincent student body to support the new club which was then primarily student run.
The team struggled to find the money for uniforms, equipment and transportation. Circumstances also worsened when they lost Coach Gray as well as the first director and one of the founders. The team was faced with a “precarious” situation, stated Ziemianski’s book.
However, the club pulled through and the positions were filled. Students began taking more interest in the team as the season of the fall of 1970 continued.
Throughout the years leading up to 1982, the hockey team switched between coaches frequently and went through periods of being a powerhouse on the ice to team building stages where the team lost its stride, only to bring it back up again. However, in 1982, the hockey club came to a sudden stop.
Tom Holowaty, current manager of the hockey team and associate professor of accounting at Saint Vincent, said that the gap was due to the graduation of seniors and no underclassmen to pick up where they left off.
“What happened is a lot of these teams are run by the kids, the students, and you get a group of them, young and aggressive, together and they’re fundraising [etc.] and then they graduate,” Holowaty said.
However, Holowaty said that many hockey teams from other schools go through the same issue.
“You’ll have these teams formed by the students and they’ll last for two or three years, kids will graduate, and they’ll fall apart. A good example [is] Wheeling Jesuit [University], gone this year,” explained Holowaty.
The gap in between the eras of hockey at Saint Vincent College stretched 17 years. In 1999, Holowaty revived the team and brought in Mike Ziemianski, class of 1979, to coach. Ziemianski—who, up until approximately four years ago, had still been coaching—played on Saint Vincent’s hockey team during his college career.
Since 1999, the team has gone through the same stages of making it to the National Championships (NCHA) and of rebuilding a team once the seniors graduate, just as the hockey club did in its earlier years.
After 15 years of coaching, Ziemiaski stepped back. He now maintains the hockey website and works with the team in an auxiliary capacity. Brett Martz, an original player on the 1999 hockey team, became the most recent head coach of the team.
The current 2018-2019 season is looking to be an interesting one, according to hockey player and junior English major Robert Wynn. While they have lost two games, Wynn says that that does not necessarily mean the team is doing poorly.
“The score doesn’t reflect how competitive the games actually were, and when you look at the teams we’ve played, I’d say we’re on a good track towards a successful season,” Wynn said.
Isaac Pesicka, sophomore communication major and another player on the team, describes the season as being off to a rocky start, but that “[they] are starting to click as a team”.
As for what the fiftieth anniversary will mean to those on the team, Ziemianski had a few words to say.
“[This event] gives you time to reflect on how many kids have gone through the program […] and all the relationships that have been built because hockey is a small, tight knit community,” Ziemianski said.
Holowaty had a similar view.
“For me, it’s personal satisfaction. We were able to bring [the hockey team] back […], for the players […] it’s a real bonding event,” Holowaty said, regarding the significance of the hockey team’s endurance.
Wynn said that the hockey team is a family and that the fiftieth anniversary is a chance to recognize that “this group of guys has the potential to do something very special.”
“We’re there for each other, on and off the ice,” Wynn said.
Both Wynn and Pesicka stated what an important factor the SVC hockey team is in their lives.
“The game has helped me both good and bad times in my life,” Pesicka said.
As the Polar Bearcats prepare for their fiftieth anniversary, Ziemianski said he wants to extend an invitation to join the team to all students, male and female. He said that the campus club is very open to all and will work with individuals at all levels of experience.