If I told you that a kid from Killeen, Texas would find his way to competing for an NCAA Division III Ice Hockey Conference Championship in the state of Massachusetts, you would probably laugh it off and not believe it. However, junior defensemen Josh Victor (Killeen, Tex.) has done just that, trading the sweltering heatwaves of Texas for snowy New England winters. His story starts when he was a child living in Round Rock, Tex.
"My earliest memory of hockey would be that my parents got me these Fisher Price roller blades you could strap on to your shoes. I would roll around the house with a stick in my hand and a rubber puck and just bang it off things." Said Victor.
"My father played a very important role in developing his love for hockey. He went to school in Minnesota (University of Bethel), and while at Bethel, he fell in love with the game of hockey. It was predetermined that his first son was going to try the game out." Josh continued.
Victor also said that one of his best childhood memories was about his father and hockey. "I was maybe six at the time, and we had our last game, I was terrible my first year, my parents didn't really think I would love the game. The game was in Austin, and the whole ride up was just me and my dad. My dad was really into 80's rock, so we were playing old classic rock songs and jamming out. It's one of those memories where it feels like it was just yesterday when I think about it. It was a really awesome day; I scored my first goal that day, it was a sweet moment."
How Josh was able to get to Fitchburg State is a remarkable story. Initially, FSU was not one of the schools he had wanted to go to, but since it had the academic program that he was looking for, he gave Fitchburg State a chance. "I was looking at a few other schools, but Fitchburg State had the program that I was interested in at the time (sports management). So on an off-weekend, I decided to come and visit, just to give it a look. It wasn't really high on my radar, but I figured, 'why not?'" What happened after he visited campus is what got him hooked on the school; the students, faculty, and teammates all welcomed him with open arms. "I got on campus, went to a game, walked around the school, got to interact with some of the students and hockey team. I really felt at home." This was a distinctly different feeling he received when visiting other schools. "…not to dog on them, but when I went to them, I felt like a recruit, whereas when I visited Fitchburg, they treated me like I was already one of the players and that's what I enjoyed about it…"
One example of this family atmosphere that Josh boasts about came in a game earlier this year against UMass Dartmouth.
"We were playing UMass-Dartmouth on the road in our first conference game of the year, and with the first league game, everybody's antsy, nobody knows what to expect, we knew we were a good squad, but we didn't know what to expect from them. Unfortunately, our bus ran into traffic on our way to the game so instead of getting to the rink an hour and a half before the game like normal, we ended up getting there 20 minutes before warm ups. Everybody was scrambling to get ready, everybody has certain routines that they couldn't do because it was get up and go."
"We got down pretty quickly 2-0, then it was 3-0, then we made it 3-1. The score was 4-1 going into the third period, and with about six minutes left it was still 4-1. Nobody on the bench had any quit in them. We ended up making it 4-2, we got hot, and before you know it, it was 4-4… It showed the character that we had. We have a young team, so it's easy for a young guy to face a 4-1 deficit with a few minutes left in the third and just say, 'we'll pack it in', and start making excuses like, 'we got here late, I didn't get to do my routine, were playing on a smaller rink', but we stayed focused and kept chipping away, and finally those chips started falling our way. Even though it was a tie, no one gave up on a game."
This fortitude, as Josh said, is uncommon in teams that are as young as Fitchburg State; thirteen of Fitchburg's twenty-five hockey players are underclassmen. Seeing the resilience the team had in that moment has been a bonding experience that Josh believes exemplifies what Fitchburg State exemplifies: a tight knit community with a family atmosphere. "Ever since I've stepped foot on campus, everybody's been welcoming from faculty and staff to my peers and students, graduate students, anybody I've spoken to has been respectful, warm, and welcoming. From a team standpoint, we're all a close-knit group. If one person has a bad day, we make sure to pick each other up, and that's not something you see on every team."
The Fitchburg State ice hockey team (18-6-3, 11-4-3 MASCAC) recently captures its second MASCAC Ice Hockey Tournament Championship to earn its first trip into the NCAA DIII Ice Hockey Championship Tournament where the Falcons will travel to Nichols College on Saturday for a contest starting at 7:00 PM.
Article Courtesy of Fitchburg State student journalist Connor Ghiz