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When the Saints come skating in

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There’s nothing like jumping from the bench onto a sheet of ice so fresh it still has a Zamboni trail. It’s a rush that Anthony Olivette, a junior at Marymount University in Arlington, has experienced many times since he first hit the ice at age 6. But when the communications major transferred to Marymount in 2015, his hockey career reached a premature end. Marymount didn’t have a hockey team. So Olivette did what any hockey-loving kid would do — he created one. 

In the process, he got a bonus education in navigating bureaucracy. His first step was to ask questions — lots of them. And when he appeared before Marymount’s co-curricular council to pitch the team, he had to answer a lot of questions about risk, liability and ice time. Getting the team approved was only the start. He faced a giant to-do list, including getting insurance for the team, and completing mountains of paperwork. He had to find a coach, secure ice time for practice, join a league, and most important, form a team.

But he didn’t have to do it alone. With so many skaters around the Beltway vying for so little ice, the local hockey community is tight-knit. Spending time at the same dozen or so rinks, year after year, helps to form friendships, even with rival clubs. That came in handy when Olivette was putting a team together. 

CONNOR BERGERON  |  CATHOLIC HERALDHe didn’t have to look far for a coach. He turned to longtime family friend Thorpe Lichtenberg, who recently retired from the Arlington County Police Department, and grew up playing hockey in Canada. Even though he has three hockey-playing kids who played youth hockey with Olivette, and he coached youth hockey for more than 17 years, this was his first time coaching college club hockey. Lichtenberg admires the players’ dedication in balancing their academic loads, internships and playing time, and sees hockey as an outlet for them. “They have fun and play their hearts out. Some even played when they’re hurt. They have each other’s backs and truly enjoy representing their school,” he said.

Barrett Haga, Olivette’s former coach at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, mentored him through the process of joining a league. The fledgling team was accepted into the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference in September, and competes in the Atlantic Division. With just over 3,000 students, Marymount is the smallest school in the conference.

Olivette put his public relations skills to the test, first spreading the word to recruit team members, and then recruiting fans. A graduate of Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, he welcomed two other O’Connell alums to the team. The Saints now have 14 skaters with a wide range of abilities from beginner to elite, plus a goalie — the only girl on the team.

It was a challenge to meet deadlines before the start of the season. With a limited budget, the team had to be realistic with expenditures, which affected decisions from where they would practice and play their games — saving their season finale for the more expensive Kettler Capitals Iceplex just a few miles from campus in Arlington — to what kind of uniforms they would wear. 

CONNOR BERGERON  |  CATHOLIC HERALDA few days before the season opener in mid-September, a few players purchased basic white hockey jerseys, and ironed on the team logos and numbers themselves. By game day, the team had not even practiced together, and only seven players were qualified to play. A typical team has 15 players, divided into three lines. So the team got a great workout that day. By their second game, they had almost a full roster. 

Student fans have embraced “the coolest sport on ice,” and showed up to cheer on their team at home games at Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast Washington. Even though the Saints did not have a winning inaugural season, losing 11-0 in their final league game Jan. 28 to conference rival, Catholic University, they generated a lot of school spirit. Marymount fans can be proud that they now have a hockey team to support.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017