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Heart and Grit: ISU Bengal Hockey Club Not Slowing Down After Difficult First Season

February 21, 2024

A man celebrates during a hockey game

The ISU Bengal Hockey Club’s inaugural season was one to remember, but not for the reasons you might think. Establishing a collegiate club sport takes years of work and a team of volunteers, a luxury the Bengals didn’t have as they explored their options for building a hockey club from the ground up. 

The idea for a team started with two friends who played hockey together as children, Dusty Gardner and Kendal Olson, along with Dusty’s father, Shawn Gardner, who had coached youth hockey teams previously. The Gardners and Olson recruited another former teammate, Christian Neddo, and they all began reaching out to others they had played hockey with in the past. Their grass roots efforts helped the team grow to six recruits, and the team finished the season with 10 skaters and two goalies. In an end-of-season finale, the homegrown team celebrated by landing commitments for next season from two players who weren’t even considering ISU until they learned that they could play hockey there. 

Dusty Gardner says that watching the formation of the Spud Kings, a junior hockey team in SE Idaho, was a motivating factor in forming the club sport for ISU. 

“When the Spud Kings came here to Idaho Falls, they quickly gathered a large following, providing a family-friendly environment for people to enjoy hockey,” Gardner said. “I thought that it was time for SE Idaho to catch up to the curve and show the region how much fun it can be to be part of a university hockey community also. For the guys to come through the university, come through with the team and feel that association with the area is really a special thing.”

With 12 players this season, they had only half the number that most regulation collegiate hockey teams have, but team member Christian Neddo isn’t phased by the team’s record this first season. 

“I’m so proud of these boys and this team, and where we’ve come. If you compare our first game to now, you can’t be anything but proud of these guys. We’ve come so far and grown as a team, pride is the main feeling I feel from this season,” said Neddo. 

Coach Shawn Gardner feels the same. Gardner said, “Normal kids don’t do this, just the way they put themselves out there and their work ethic. They’ll shake off a loss and they come back stronger.” 

Any ISU student is eligible to join the team, regardless of the program they are studying. Players this season range from chemistry, welding, health sciences, pre-physician assistant studies, general studies and pre-pharmacy, to name a few. 

The American College Hockey Association governs all collegiate club hockey teams in America, including the ISU team. Coach Gardner explains, “Academically, the players are held to a high standard and might be benched or even cut if they don’t maintain a high enough GPA. They can’t just come out and play hockey, they have to keep up their grades also.” 

As for the season record (2-12), Coach Gardner says he’s going to shake it off and come back stronger next year. Choking up slightly as he spoke, he said, “I’ve never coached a group of players with more heart and more support for each other. If you go in that locker room right now, the hard loss we just had, it’s gone. Every one of them hates to lose, but they’re in there right now planning for the next game.”

Try-outs for next season take place March 29 and 30, 2024. Email the team at isubengalshockey@gmail.com for more information. 


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