How soccer, track in Texas influenced hockey in ND
Daniel Huntley may have created a monster at the University of Mary. So many fans packed the Schwan Cadillac Arena for a first glimpse at the new hockey program in action that the gatekeepers had to start turning would-be spectators away.
On Sept. 15, exactly one year after announcing that they would add a hockey program, the Marauders hosted their first home game against North Dakota State. With an 8-0 victory, the first impression said a long road to establishing a hockey program was worth it.
“It certainly was a storybook ending,” Huntley told Pucks and Recreation.
The end of the beginning, he hopes.
Huntley, who doubles as Mary’s associate athletic director, certainly achieved a remarkable feat in getting a hockey program ready in one year. More notably, when he arrived, the Marauders did not even have a club team.
However, he has overcome such challenges before.
Before arriving on the Benedictine Bismarck campus, Huntley logged extensive experience in athletic administration. Among his feats, he oversaw various colleges’ establishing teams in other sports.
That John Chapman-like journey began at Northland College in northern Wisconsin, where he worked from 2000 to 2005.
“A cross-country program was already in place,” he said, “but unfortunately the head coach quit. I was already the hockey coach, but I wanted the cross-country programs to continue. I went to the athletic director and said I would be able to coach cross-country.
“Even though I did not have much experience coaching this particular sport, I believe you can coach if you know how to manage.”
After two years in this role, Huntley handed the reins to his assistant coach. But after preserving this program, his journey was just getting started. In 2005, Huntley moved to the University of Texas-Brownsville, one of the oldest community colleges in its state.
In a three-year stay as the athletic director, his first crack at the top of an athletic department, Huntley navigated other challenges in establishing a new soccer program.
“As soon as I got down there, I knew the community liked soccer,” he reflected. “Brownsville was good at the high-school level, and I looked at adding men’s and women’s soccer.”
Huntley recognized the value of embracing the local community and learned other important lessons at Brownsville as well.
“There were a few important elements contributing to Brownsville’s success,” he said. “Establishing a solid scholarship program and taking the time to find the right guys to coach the team is so valuable.”
“If people see your program is not successful, they won’t go. You have to be diligent in your coaching and player search and find the right people at the right time.”
In 2015, Brownsville merged with the University of Texas-Pan American to form the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, but Huntley’s impact remains palpable. Both of its soccer programs continue to compete in the Western Athletic Conference.
As for Huntley, he stayed in the state and expanded his resume at Concordia University. Once again, he got a sport going from scratch.
“We sought to establish men’s and women’s track,” he said. “The coach I had there was dedicated and focused on providing student-athletes the opportunity to grow and get better. We had volunteer coaches and former University of Texas coaches. One of these even participated in the Olympics.”
After four years as the athletic director at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa, Huntley arrived at Mary. Pursuing a hockey program there signified a return to his roots, both athletic and regional. He had started his career in 1990 with one season at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn.
But as with Brownsville’s pitch and Concordia’s track, getting the Marauders on ice was an ambitious endeavor.
“Our jerseys showed up two days before our first game,” noted Huntley. “Our locker room has also taken some extra time in getting completed. But fortunately, these players are resilient.”
Speaking of players, the Marauders are full of home-grown talent. 16 of the 20 players on the roster are native to North Dakota. Starting goalie Aaron Nelson stands out as both a Bismarck native and a transfer from Minnesota State’s Division I powerhouse.
“We are a club team, but we aren’t treating it that way,” said Huntley. “The team plays 47 games this year as opposed to the ACHA which plays only 24. We take one day off, and it is those types of things that make us stand out.
“We are playing in parts of the United States that you would not expect, like the Florida Gulf Coast. Our players will be challenged with unique experiences and we care about creating a good environment for them.”
Huntley’s avid commitment to developing the hockey program envelops all aspects of the team from recruitment and funding to scheduling and practicing.
“We are a fully-funded hockey program,” said Huntley. “While having a good strength of schedule is important, perhaps the most important aspect of creating a program like this one is having a vision and plan. Taking the time to make sure it is well-thought is so important. We don’t want to do things half-way. We want to make sure our program is successful.”
Huntley’s and the team’s efforts are certainly paying off. Not only did the team sweep ND State in their opening weekend, but followed up by defeating the University of North Dakota club team this past weekend.
A 4-0 start is impressive, but Huntley knows the team still has a long season to go.
“We play all seven club teams in North Dakota this year,” he said. “We hope we will have a winning record against them and against teams we play in Division II. Ultimately, we want to be ranked No. 1 out west in Division II ACHA rankings.”
Huntley even hopes to find some rivals in this ambitious schedule. But per his philosophy, that will have to wait for a setback.
“I like to think that a rivalry doesn’t start until someone beats you,” he said. “It could be Minot State or Boise State, you don’t know.
“In the end, we want to be a success and provide a strong, competitive environment for our players. We won’t be afraid this year.”