|In the world of post-secondary education, it’s no secret that universities compete against one another in almost ever category imaginable. From the academic aspects of which school has the smartest students, to the ridiculous of whose students party harder, schools often pit themselves against each other with nothing but pride on the line.
This is especially evident within university hockey leagues, both here and in the United States. With a plentiful amount of American university players ending up in the NHL, the rivalries that started in school are naturally carried over.
But what happens when players are forced to play with old, bitter rivals in the big league? How do they handle being around players they swore to mock and ridicule? Well, it turns out the mocking never ends.
“We’ve actually got quite a few college guys here, so there’s always some sort of riveting going on,” said Brendan Morrison, who studied economics at the University of Michigan.
With a degree in telecommunications and a minor in web design, virtual reality and software development from Michigan State University, Mike Weaver is the epitome of a whizz kid who can bring it on the ice. And with only 64 miles between his alma mater and that of Morrison, it’s only natural that the pair remains extremely competitive.
“I give it to Mo all the time,” said Weaver. “One of our biggest rivalries was University of Michigan. You don’t play a lot of games in college, you play 35 at the most and we’d play University of Michigan four times. The games would almost sell out every time; it’s pretty big, especially in Michigan.”
With the pressures of playing well always in the back of player’s minds, some days it’s nice to reflect on something less stressful, like simple hockey updates from the university leagues.
“It’s always fun,” said Weaver. “I always ask him when the last time they won the National Championship is. Because we [Michigan State] just won it just this past year, so it’s kind of good to rub things in and it lightens it up in the dressing room.”
NHL games are never short on subplots, but university foes competing against each other always adds to the excitement. From making faces, to a little push and shove, it’s clear that the players enjoy renewing rivalries.
“Shawn Horcoff of the Edmonton Oilers was in my graduating class,” said Weaver. “It’s always great when you get onto the ice, give a little wink to him and you don’t really get into the conversation on the ice, that’s for after the game, but it’s always fun competing against each other.”
“I enjoy it,” said Morrison. “I mean, anytime you get to play against friends it’s a lot of fun. It’s a challenge; you want to go out and beat your friend every time you play against them, so you always get up from those games.”
Although players had four years to develop strong friendships, they don’t let feeling get in their way when playing each other. Their dominant sense of pride sides with their NHL team, and Morrison said that when it comes right down to it, no one likes to lose.
“We’re all competitive guys. You always want to see your own team to do well, so it’s competitive, and there’s always bragging rights on the line.”
But friends will be friends and once the competitive mask is off, it’s just good buddies catching up and sharing stories of the good times they had back at university.
“I think university players do create a strong bond,” said Morrison. “When I went to my school, there were nine guys in my class freshman year, and to this day I’m still pretty tight with eight of them. So I built really good friendships, long lasting friendships.”
In Weaver’s case, his summer hangout is at Michigan State University’s hockey arena. This provides him the opportunity to catch up with many old class mates.
“In the summer time, Michigan State’s pretty unique in that they give back to the alumni. We get free ice all summer, skating around with the varsity guys there. And a lot of guys there have a place around Michigan State, so there’s a lot of guys right around there. It’s kind of good to get into shape with the guys, skate with them in the summer, and part ways come August.”
So despite all the trash talk, there are many ways of getting a couple competitive hockey players to get along. If they are rivalries who end up on the same NHL team, they learn to work together. Or if they are old university teammates, there’s no excuse for players growing apart because of a few body checks here and there throughout the season.
1 - Years with Canucks (Weaver)
8 - Years with Canucks (Morrison)
24 - Career Points (Weaver)
175 - NHL Games Played (Weaver)
469 - Career Points (Morrison)
665 - NHL Games Played (Morrison)