Syracuse ice hockey plays dodgeball to fire up before home games
Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor
Paul Flanagan struggled to focus on the recruit and parent in front of him. He couldn’t figure out the origin of that loud noise emanating from his team’s locker room.
Over the years, pregame volume usually stemmed from an unusual tradition on his squad, one that no one truly knows the origins of and that also often leaves team pictures askew. But that thought didn’t enter his head then. He was only thinking one thing.
“What the hell is all that noise?”
Dodgeball has been a mainstay for Syracuse (11-12-5, 10-4-2 College Hockey America) in preparing to take the ice at Tennity. The team plays the gym class classic before every home game. Even though it causes the occasional minor injury, Flanagan pays no mind to it and players say it helps them get fired up and focused.
“It is really, really aggressive,” junior forward Emily Costales said.
The pregame ritual has happened at every Tennity home game for as long as any player can remember. Best the head coach can recall, and he’s been here all nine years of the program’s existence, it started in the team’s second or third year. But he can’t be sure.
The odd tradition stuck out to now-junior defender Dakota Derrer on her official visit to Syracuse three years ago. The team played before its game as the recruit watched. All she could think was, “What’s going on?”
She saw forwards on one end of the locker room and goalies and defense on the other. A line of squishy, rubber balls lay between them, on and around the sacred “S” in the middle of the locker room. Stepping on that “S” incurs a $5 fine.
Games usually last between five and seven minutes and are accompanied by music like “Broccoli” by D.R.A.M. Hurling a foam sphere at your teammates, Costales said, amps up the team, engages a competitive mindset and creates important pre-game “sparks.”
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A whiteboard in the locker room tracks the wins for each side. Despite being outnumbered 12-11, the defense and goalies currently hold the season series lead, 7-4. Costales described them as “cocky,” but blueliner Megan Quinn prefers to be called “just better.”
Maybe the defense and goalies hold the lead because the team boasts the two players most frequently credited as the entire hockey team’s best: Derrer and Abbey Miller.
Both players possess a softball background, Miller as a catcher and outfielder while Derrer played shortstop. The defender even considered college softball locally at Michigan State or Central Michigan.
“Abbey Miller and Dak have the strongest arms on that team,” Costales said. “They whip people’s heads off.”
The strength comes from some atypical training. Over the summer, Miller coached at a summer hockey camp and led off-ice training, where she somehow found herself playing dodgeball daily.
“I would go pretty hard against, like, 10 year olds,” Miller said.
To avoid the ringers, forwards occasionally take cover behind a refrigerator on their end of the locker room. The opposition may yell at them for hiding, but at least it provides protection. The defense itself uses tactics considered ethically ambiguous. A door sits propped open on their end that balls occasionally soar through, and then the forwards shout back.
Derrer alone has hit two players — senior forwards Heather Schwarz and Jessica Sibley — in the face before games. Once, such a hit swelled one of Sibley’s eyes shut prior to the game. The team worried one of its captains wouldn’t be on the ice in time, but the swelling subsided just before the puck dropped. To date, no one has missed any time for the Orange because of dodgeball.
“It’s all fun and games,” Derrer said.
Even errant throws create hazards for players as sometimes skates fall from the tops of lockers. But the threat of injury deters no one. The players agree that dodgeball is a fun and unique pregame preparation. The balance of healthy adrenaline and danger helps hone a winning mindset.
“It gets pretty rowdy,” Derrer said. “Sometimes coach can tell when we’re really pumped before a game when there is a big dodgeball game in there.
“It carries on to the ice sometimes.”
Published on February 14, 2017 at 10:00 pm