NC State’s club hockey team skates to sustained success.
By Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
When NC State’s club ice hockey team launched in fall 1976, Raleigh was hardly a hockey town. The closest rink was in Hillsborough, N.C. The best way to get fans to games might have been with a keg, a successful gimmick once in the early years. And, about half of the team, first dubbed the Wolfpuck, were from northern states.
In the last four decades, Raleigh’s hockey status has matured — and so has NC State’s team, now known as the Icepack. More than 1,000 fans regularly attend games at its home rink in nearby Morrisville. And, with booming youth hockey programs in Raleigh, which grew after the Carolina Hurricanes’ NHL franchise moved here in 1997, the roster features mostly North Carolinians, and they’re competitive. The team beat UNC, 3-0, in February to win its fourth consecutive ACC championship.
This season, the Icepack hopes to claim a fifth straight ACC crown and compete in nationals, a trip it’s made two out of the last four years, says senior Victor Hugo, an aerospace engineering major from Arlington, Va., and the club’s president. “Raleigh’s turned into a hockey town with the ’Canes, and people are picking up that hockey is a pretty cool sport and they’re realizing that their college actually has a hockey team.” (There’s even an NC State women’s club ice hockey team, formed in 2019. The club won the 2022 women’s ACC title.)
As a club team, the Icepack doesn’t receive the same financial support as a varsity sport. The budget can get as high as $125,000 if the team heads to nationals, says Icepack coach Tim Healy, who earns a small stipend. Players, who vied for spots in competitive tryouts in August, pay $1,500 to participate, and the team covers the rest with ticket revenue, corporate sponsorships, donations and apparel sales.
“We can’t use the university branding, so we’ve gone and really had to work hard at creating our own brand, which means that licensing fees and sales from places like the Red and White Shop comes back to us,” Healy says.
The team has developed a strong fan base among youth hockey players, offering free admission to youth players at its Friday games, a tactic that packs the stands. “A lot of the parents are NC State alums, so they have that pride point of bringing their kids,” Healy says.
And, as the team travels for games across the country, it’s actively reaching out to alumni, connecting with them in places like North Dakota and Texas. In 2019, the team held a Founder’s Day with some of the original members coming on the ice. The team’s founder and first president, Richard Jordan ’79 of Minnetonka, Minn., dropped the puck. Of the Icepack’s progress, Jordan says, “It’s unbelievable.”