From rags to regionals: How DePaul hockey changed the game this year


Christina Hammersmith

DePaul club hockey reached the second round of the ACHA Men’s Division II Central Regionals and lost to Iowa.

“The buzzer went off and that feeling when you get to throw your helmet off, … it’s a kind of feeling you can’t really explain. We were the first DePaul team in history to win that thing,” said DePaul Hockey President and goalie Asher Motew, as he recalled the moment that the team won the NCHL Division II Conference Championship in February. 

DePaul was in line for a challenge as its competitor, Concordia University, already had beaten the Blue Demons during the regular season. Concordia was also ranked as one of the top teams in the nation. With a few points still to gain on the scoreboard and less than 20 minutes to spare, the odds seemed gim for the Blue Demons. 

Going into that last period though, something ignited in the locker room — and it was a flame that had been carefully crafted all season. The team recalled what they used to push themselves towards their last successful victory: their unwavering bond of comradery, a strong positive mindset and one saying: “It’s easy to work hard.” 

“We can’t control everything,” Motew said. “But we can control how hard we can work.”

Through this belief, the team not only brought home a shiny regional championship trophy — one that Motew proudly displays over a zoom interview — but an impressive list of personal accomplishments and awards as well. 

Under the American Collegiate Hockey Association, junior defensemen Chris Lee won the First Team All Athletic Award. Lee also won the First Team Central Region Award with senior defenseman Michael Helf. 

Under the Northern Collegiate Hockey League, the Player of the Year was awarded to senior defenseman Michael Helf. Goalie of the Year was awarded to senior Asher Motew. Rookie of the Year was awarded to junior defenseman Chris Lee.

DePaul’s hockey team is a club sport under the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). This means that while DePaul receives financial support from the university, they are still responsible for covering a large lingering budget on their own. Oftentimes, club teams will not be funded with the same amenities or facilities that a D1 team would receive. 

“With club hockey, these kids are playing for the love of the game, but they still have to go out and fundraise money,” Motew said. “It’s a lot of hard work to, at the end of the day, just play hockey.” 

The more money they raise, the better the playing experience will be. But, according to Brock Ash, with such a taxing budget at hand, it has been hard for the team to garner enough funds in the past to support a serious season. 

“Before Asher got here, we didn’t have fundraising at all and that showed with our team budget,”Ash said. “We never really got new stuff, we had two ice slots a week to practice and no off-ice training.” 

When Motew came onto the scene, he made it a requirement that every player raise at least $1,000 at the start of the season. Everyone was on board. The team was able to raise an incredible sum to finance their season — far larger than any of the years prior. 

Now, the team enjoys 2-3 practices a week, 2 workouts a week and games every weekend. Motew thanks more than the budget for this seismic shift in the season. He attributes the positive change to the powerful mindset and drive that the team has been able to foster with each other. 

“We want to work for each other,” Motew said. “Not only do you need good hockey players, you need certain personalities, and we have those personalities. We have those kids that care.”  

The team thrives off a core of leaders that are committed to developing the program further throughout the years. Motew believes that their work so far is the start of something great for the program, but the foundation has only just been laid. The work is being passed on to individuals that can combine their outside interests and skills with hockey to enhance the program. 

Take freshmen Liam Farrell, for example, who studies economics and owns his own clothing company. For next year, Farrell has big plans as the treasurer to better save and manage their money so that the players may develop their expenses even further, potentially even generating a profit for the team.  

Head coach Dan Wood has high hopes for his team in the coming years as well. Not only does he respect the collective hard work ethic that the team has maintained through the season, but he also admires their genuine comradery through it all. 

“There’s this mentality that you can’t really coach, that’s just an inherent thing,” Wood said. “The guys truly believe in each other and are truly fighting for each other. They go and they work their butts off, pick their teammates up, and are incredibly positive on the bench.”

Wood explains how they are all friends off the ice, which definitely contributes to their cooperation and support in the rink. Ash, who is one of the longest standing players on the team, is quick to point out this sense of friendship as well. He mentioned how, in the past, the hockey team easily split into smaller friend groups between ages and skill sets. Now, they have never been stronger. 

“This is by far the best team we’ve ever had,” Ash said. “There’s not a single kid on the team that I couldn’t just go out to lunch with and have a good conversation with for a few hours.” 

Together, the team has a steady gaze towards success in their upcoming season, but like the path they have already traveled, it will not be easy. Their impressive year has put a target on their backs. 

Already, Wood mentioned how more teams are reaching out and wanting to play. Additionally, their success has been seen under more than one watchful eye. Extra players are looking towards DePaul to continue their collegiate hockey careers now too. 

The team already had enough players for the first time this year to make a roster squad and a practice squad, and now the competition continues to heat up. 

DePaul has now won its league championship and made it to the regionals, and now the next step is nationals. The players are already sharpening their blades and preparing for the hard work ahead — planning for a summer of fundraising, recruiting and training before they can truly take to the ice. 

“We know we’re capable,” Ash said. “We’ll finish the job and the results will come with hard work.”