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Inside the ACHA - Ingalls leads Aquinas to the ice


For junior Hugh Ingalls, the choice to attend Aquinas College was motivated by academics. But he quickly aspired to get a hockey team on the ice, and he succeeded.

With over 400 teams across the ACHA, there is an option for a number of student-athletes as they prepare to continue their education after high school. But even with some many schools offering the chance to play at the ACHA level, there are still schools working to establish programs.

Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI was one particular institution that did not have a hockey team when Hugh Ingalls decided to attend in 2009. Ingalls, now a junior, chose Aquinas for their Sustainable Business program and decided that jumping right into college was in his best interest, despite having the option of continuing his hockey career past the AAA travel level.

“I stayed committed to my decision to attend Aquinas and from there I decided that I would pursue creating a team at Aquinas,” Ingalls said. “Aquinas had never had more than a men’s league team that ended play in the 1990s.”

Even before Ingalls set foot on campus he was in touch with the powers he needed to speak with in order to put the wheels in motion for putting a team on the ice at Aquinas. Between campus recruiters, professors and as high as the College’s president, Ingalls covered all of his bases. The process for creating the team built to a fever pitch quickly. Ingalls noted that he and those helping to start the team were in meetings on almost a daily basis.

After countless meetings covering insurance, equipment, coaches, facilities and fundraising, Ingalls’ group was to the point of going to the student body with their pitch.

“A momentous occasion came when Nolan Smith, Christian Potter and I gave a 10 minute presentation to the 80 member student senate asking for 10000 dollars for the following season,” Ingalls said. “We got the 10000 dollars and soon after we hired a coach and the board approved the team.”

From that point the program was in full swing. The 2011-12 season was used as a lead up to lay the foundation for the team and recruit the necessary players moving forward. The team officially hit the ice this past fall for the 2012-13 season.

The year of build up allowed Ingalls to scour the Aquinas campus for additional hockey players – he found 18 with a background in the game – to form a men’s league team with which carried an unofficial banner for the program for Ingalls’ freshman and sophomore years. Entering this year, Mark VanVliet was hired as head coach and 14 new faces came to the school to form the first official team.

Despite taking their first steps as a team this fall, the program is already enjoying quite a bit of success with the student body at Aquinas. Even with an athletics department that boasts an impressive roster of sports, the hockey team’s 14-7 record has drawn plenty of attention already.

“We are the top attended sport among the student body in our very first year,” Ingalls said. “The college at all levels has embraced hockey and we have been accepted among the social fold of the college.”

Ingalls notes that the social aspect of the games and surrounding the team has done a lot for the increased exposure and interest they have received. He also noted that the interest and success can only improve.

“The team has the most positive social status of any established sport as a first year team, meaning it will only grow each and every year as we find continued success on and off the ice,” he said.

For now the key is to keep the positive momentum going. Aquinas College now has a brand new team to root for that provides an avenue for athletes to continue their careers and education in a unique setting. The most unique part is that this option didn’t exist just two short years ago.

“The first few games were something that will go down in history as a time that will be remembered by the college forever,” Ingalls said. “I smile every day because of what refusing to take no for an answer and writing the goal of starting this team everyday has done for me. After two years, I get to finally live the dream of college hockey.”

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