Reality is setting in for the seniors of CU’s Division II hockey team. The regular season is over, and they are coming closer and closer to playing their final hockey games as Buffaloes.
The No. 4 Buffs head to San Jose, Calif. to face the No. 9 University of Nevada Las Vegas Rebels in Saturday’s ACHA regional tournament. If Colorado (23-7-0-1) wins against UNLV and its next opponent, they will earn a spot at Nationals.
Forward Alex Lencioni and defenseman Jeffrey Palmer, two of the team’s six seniors, are hoping to do just that, and end their CU careers on a high note.
“It’s pretty important (to keep the season going),” Lencioni says. “It’s really kind of hitting home right now that my hockey career is kind of on the final stretch. I want to play as long as I can. Every hockey player wants to go out winning. You don’t want the last game you ever play to be a loss.”
Every player dreads his last game, Palmer says, so the team hopes to postpone that as long as possible. For Palmer, hockey has always been almost second nature.
“Hockey in Alaska is like football in Texas,” Palmer says. “It was something I knew I was going to do.”
He’s been playing for 19 years, and plans to continue to make time for the sport even as he returns to his home state after graduation for a career in engineering.
Lencioni, who leads the team with 23 goals and 36 assists on the season, says while medical school is in his future, hockey will always be in his blood. He’s been playing for 16 years and hopes to one day coach youth hockey.
“I think that’d be just as much fun as playing when I grew up,” Lencioni says. “I’d get to teach kids about a sport that I grew up loving, and I don’t think you get anything better than that.”
Hockey is more than just a sport for the team. The players are like a second family and the rink a second home. Lencioni says from starting out as a freshman on the Division III team, he’s met most of his friends through hockey. He values having been able to travel all over the country with his teammates and says they hang out all the time and even live together.
“It’s definitely a way to take a school down from 30,000 to about 30 or so,” Lencioni says.
Palmer adds that the team has worked as the best possible escape from school work and has been a great experience.
“Being in the rink for four years has been awesome,” Palmer says. “Coming in my freshman year, the guys were really good about taking me under their wing and showing me the ropes … Everybody has each other’s back, whether it’s on or off the ice. We all deal with everything together. We basically eat, sleep and play hockey together.”
By Marlee Horn for the Colorado Daily