The Hope College hockey team is happy to be skating at the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Division 3 Championships again after a brief absence.
Yet, this week, the Flying Dutchmen want to play in Columbus, Ohio, like they are not satisfied with just being among the nation's elite.
Head coach Chris VanTimmeren and Hope are looking to advance out of three days of pool play that begins Tuesday and qualify for the March 16 national semifinals. The top team in the Flying Dutchmen's four-team pool advances.
"It's always special when you get there," said VanTimmeren, whose team returns to nationals after a two-year absence and a string of 15 consecutive ACHA Championships appearance was snapped in 2015.
"To be back means a lot for these guys. These seniors went as freshmen. They felt a lot of pressure the last two years to keep that tradition of what this program is about and back where it should be."
Photo of Austen Peterson by Steven Herppich
Hope enters with a 21-7-2 overall record. The Flying Dutchmen beat Ferris State and Adrian during the February 23-24 ACHA regional tournament to clinch a bid to nationals.
In pool play, Hope will face Fairfield on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., and Arkansas on Thursday at 2 p.m.
Digison made the Michigan Collegiate Hockey Conference Dream Team and was an MCHC West Division First-Team Selection.
Gormley topped Hope this season with 28 goals and 46 points. He also recorded 18 assists.
Success at nationals will be decided by who wants it more, Van Timmeren said.
"At nationals, you can throw out the records and how you did in your last game," Van Timmeren said. "It comes down to who has a good start and who plays a good third period. The team who sets the tone and finishes the hardest usually is the team that ends up winning in pool play."
The last six national champions have come from the Michigan Collegiate Hockey Conference. MCHC teams have made to the national championship game nine consecutive times, including Hope runner-up finishes in 2014, 2011 and 2010.
Skating against top-flight competition in the MCHC helped prepare Hope for nationals, Van Timmeren said.
"There are any easy games. When you get to regionals and nationals, you're ready to play," Van Timmeren said.