DePaul hockey hopes to ‘silence doubters,’ sets sight on deep postseason run


Donald Crocker

Senior winger Brock Ash celebrates a goal against Northern Illinois on Sept. 24 in DePaul’s 10-3 win over the Huskies.

DePaul men’s hockey is off to its best start since the 2009 season. Sitting with a 17-4 record at the winter break, the team has pulled off big wins against powerful programs such as Indiana, Northern Illinois and Marquette.

“I think we’re definitely going in the right direction,” head coach Dan Wood said of the team’s early success. “The first half of the season we were scoring a bunch of goals in a multitude of different ways and now, as the season kind of progresses and gets harder, it becomes harder and harder to score goals. So we as a team need to start playing a little bit better defense, which is something I think that we’ve started to do.”

DePaul doesn’t list hockey at the varsity sport level; it is instead considered a club at the school. Players and coaches on the team believe if the team keeps winning and continues its success, that a conversation on the subject of becoming a varsity sport could be had later down the line.

“The big thing when you’re making jumps like that, you need to be fully backed by the school,” Wood said. “Now we’re under the club sports division, so we do have a great relationship with the school, which is something that Asher’s worked really hard towards rebuilding. The last time it really happened, DePaul had some serious success.”

The Blue Demons strongly  started off the season with winning their first 12 games, averaging an astronomical seven goals per game. Unlike years past, DePaul has integrated an offensive philosophy to out-score their opponents and it’s paid dividends up to this point in the season.

DePaul’s offense has been stout from the start, which is a result of having three players ranked top-20 in Division II of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).

The team has had a few players take that next step forward in improving their individual games this season. One of the bigger jumps has been senior defenseman Jackson Leptich. He has always been known as a physical player on defense, but this year provided him with more on offense compared to years past.

“I think I’ve had a pretty good year,” Leptich said. “Last year, I wasn’t super happy with how I played, but a full summer of training and keeping that up during the year, I think that stuff really helped me a lot to raise my level of play. I’ve got great linemates too, so that definitely helps and we all have pretty good chemistry and together we’ve been putting up a lot of points, so pretty happy with that.”

Junior goalie Asher Motew is the heart and soul of the team and brings much more to the table than his ability on the ice since he is the team’s president. When he’s not blocking shots on the ice or trying to succeed in the classroom, he’s dealing with operations and administrational tasks, like organizing buses, player dues, licensing for jersey designs and scheduling practices and games throughout the season.

“Asher [Motew] underestimates what he does and people don’t realize that he does everything,” Marketing and Social Media manager Alexander Kupfer-Weinstein said. “I do my own part, but he’s really what’s pushed the program in terms of getting our name out there. We wouldn’t be there without Asher.”

Being the club’s president has its ups and downs, but Motew couldn’t imagine seizing a better opportunity than being able to gain financial career experience off the ice, while continuing playing the sport he loves.

“It’s interesting and definitely stressful at times, but at the end of the day, I love it,” said Motew on being the club’s president. “I love the game and I’m a finance major, right? So that’s why being a club sport was kind of interesting because I get to kind of use what I am going for.”

The Blue Demons play with a chip on their shoulder and don’t necessarily feel like they get the respect they deserve. They are aware that they need to earn it. The team hasn’t shown promise like this season in years and are used to being an afterthought. 

“It’s been 14 years at this point, something like that,” Motew said. “We’re not doubted for no reason. I think we have the guys and we just have to continue to prove it and I think that that’s what also keeps us going.  I think if we make regionals for sure, but do well at regionals and even make nationals it will silence doubters and people that don’t really believe in us yet. I mean, any team we’ve played so far we’ve pretty much beaten so I don’t really see that changing in the future.”

The Blue Demons finally faced some adversity for the first time all season after they were swept by Kentucky before winter break. 

“We went down there and honestly didn’t play our best hockey,” Motew said. “We didn’t come away with two wins and haven’t really lost many games this year, so it was kind of a reality check in a sense for us.”

DePaul has moved on from the loss and has their eyes set on a successful second-half of the season. When the team plays well, it’s not just because of their talent, but because of the connection they share on and off the ice led by coach Wood.

“My job as a hockey coach here is not just to make great hockey players or win hockey games,” Wood said. “99.99% of the guys that I coach, don’t play hockey professionally, or if they do, they don’t play it for very long, so what I’m trying to do is raise outstanding members of the community.”

The Blue Demons have their eyes set on regionals, which starts Feb. 24 at Maryville University in Chesterfield, Missouri. The team believes this season’s group is special and has the adroitness to go far once postseason play begins.  

“We have good balance and a lot of us just enjoy each other,” Motew said. We’re just good friends and that’s kind of been leading to a lot of the success but at the same time, I think we also have to – at times – dial it in. That’s why I think weekend’s like what happened in Kentucky are humbling, in a sense. I think that it all starts with us being just really good friends and we’re like a group of brothers. We’ve all played for a long time.”

DePaul (17-4) will be back in action on Friday, Jan. 13 for a home series matchup against University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh at Johnny’s IceHouse West, with faceoff scheduled for 8:30 p.m. CST.