Even when he’s in his hometown of Toronto 1,450 miles away from FGCU, Michael Chemello gets asked about his jersey by player after player.
Chemello is wearing his FGCU club hockey jersey, and multiple NCAA Division I hockey players at the Toronto rink know the program. FGCU hockey has a reputation for domination in club hockey, which is different from the NCAA because players have to pay to play.
“Toronto is the hockey capital of the world,” said Chemello, an FGCU senior majoring in athletic training. “There is a rink five minutes away from another rink here. So to come back home and have people say FGCU is the best club hockey program in the nation, it’s the best compliment.”
FGCU has earned that reputation. Led by a roster of top-tier Canadian players who want to go to a school and play hockey in sunny Fort Myers, FGCU has won two national championships in the past four years. The Eagles won the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II national championship last April and in 2012.
FGCU finished second in the nation in 2014 and 2015. The Eagles’ club Division III team is also a robust program, having qualified for the 2016 national tournament.
FGCU’s club hockey success is one reason why so many Canadians and Northerners want to play for the team. Unlike the NCAA, club athletes pay to play. The average cost for club fees and league registration is $1,000 to $2,000 per player. Players must also pay for their own equipment.
Chemello said he plays club because it’s more relaxed than the NCAA. Instead of regimented early morning practices, FGCU practices twice a week. Games are on Fridays and Saturdays. There’s little travel. But FGCU hockey is no typical club sport. The majority of players played hockey at high Canadian junior levels. FGCU coach Bob Brinkworth, the 2016 ACHA Coach of the Year, is a former minor league professional player and top coach.
Most of FGCU’s players are recruited. Matthew Maida, the team’s director of communications and a former FGCU player, is from Toronto and has a lot of connections north of the border. To make FGCU, players must have a solid hockey background and excel in a team tryout. “The caliber of kids coming in has really upped the program and FGCU club hockey has become a big destination,” Chemello said.
For details about the FGCU hockey clubs, visit fgcuhockey.net.