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Public Affairs : Club Hockey faces Navy

Coach, standout athlete reunite at West Point 

Story and photos by Kevin Schieman
West Point Club Hockey
 
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Feb. 11, 2015) — Even as a student at Mendham High School in New Jersey, James Morsch stood out. Leadership always came naturally to him, a product of his quiet confidence and grinding determination.

Rob Loderstedt, then an assistant coach for the high school hockey team, remembers James as “one of those special people that you meet in your life who you just know is bound for something great.”

Besides excelling in the classroom and being named class president, Morsch was a four-year starter on the hockey team.

He even earned the rare distinction of being named a team captain during his sophomore season. Loderstedt, himself a four-year standout on the hockey team at Mendham High School and 2004 graduate of the University of Scranton, returned to the school as a defensive assistant coach in the fall of 2008. Not surprisingly, the hockey team thrived during the four years Morsch and Loderstedt spent together.

Led by Morsch and Loderstedt, the team qualified for the New Jersey State Playoffs three times throughout their tenure. The squad advanced to the state quarterfinals Morsch’s freshman year and only a rash of injuries derailed the team just short of that milestone in his senior season.

Loderstedt, in a manner characteristic of his own understated humility, credits much of that success to the student-athlete’s steady leadership and relentless work ethic. 

                           Reunited at West Point
Once Morsch graduated in 2012, accepting an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, it seemed the two had parted ways for good. As fate would have it, their paths have crossed again. Loderstedt now coaches the academy’s Club Hockey team, a team on which Morsch, Class of 2016, is a starting defenseman and assistant captain. The club is in its third season as a competitive ice hockey squad in Division 2 of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) and will host its first home game on Saturday, as archrival Navy comes calling at West Point’s Tate Rink.

Such an event must have seemed improbable two years ago when Morsch arrived at West Point, as the club struggled to find an identity and offered few real prospects for long-term success. The club’s recent turn of fortunes owes much to a chance meeting between Morsch and his former high school mentor.

                            From inline to ice
The club Morsch joined as a plebe in the fall of 2012 hardly resembles the one now poised for a showdown with the Midshipmen. Initially founded as an inline hockey club in 2002, the club struggled to generate any sustained success.

Although a small, outdoor community roller hockey rink exists on campus, it was designed as a recreational facility for neighborhood children, not as a venue for collegiate roller hockey. The rink was frequently in ill repair and the cadets struggled to find daylight for practice around their other duties. Maybe more importantly, most of the cadets on the team saw inline as the alternative to ice hockey, the sport all of them grew up playing and still preferred.

Three years ago the club requested permission to split their time between ice hockey and inline hockey in order to continue skating through the long, harsh Hudson Valley winters.

The team found some success on the ice, despite infrequent practices and little formal coaching. Even so, the team was often outmatched by more established clubs, as evident during losses in a pair of matchups against Navy’s club over the past two seasons. Then, under the most unlikely of circumstances, the club caught a break.   

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Club Hockey at West Point takes to the ice at Tate Rink on Valentine's Day for their epic, first contest against the team from the U.S. Naval Academy. Admission is free and details can be found on the club's website at www.westpointclubhockey.com.
 
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The West Point Ice Hockey Club reunited Coach Rob Loderstedt and Cadet James Morsch from their days at Mendham High School in New Jersey.

In the fall of 2013 during a chance encounter at an Army football tailgate, Morsch struck up an innocent conversation with Loderstedt about the program. He told his long-time mentor that the program lacked a coach and relied on a rotation of cadets and faculty to guide the team.

Loderstedt, a four-year letter-winner with Scranton’s ACHA, Division 1 hockey program, jumped at the opportunity. Loderstedt told Morsch he would happily coach the team. Given that Loderstedt lives in northern New Jersey, better than an hour from West Point’s Hudson Valley campus, that represented no small commitment.

To hear him describe the situation though, one would find the impression that fortune found him, more than it found the club. Loderstedt sees the cadets much in the same vein as he has always seen Morsch, “as the future leaders of America.” Whoever the fortunate party, the result on the ice has been immediate. In their first season together with the West Point club, success has come quickly for the cadets.

Overall, the club has roared to a 15-6 record, going 13-2 against Division 2 competition. That success has resulted in the club’s application to join the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Conference (MACH) starting next season. The MACH is one of the most competitive leagues in Division 2 and routinely places its best clubs in the regional and national tournaments.

That such a proposition is even a possibility for the cadets shows just how far the club has come in the past year. Maybe as impressive though is the fact that the club will now host a home event on a campus whose hockey legacy has been defined entirely by one of the NCAA’s oldest ice hockey programs.Though he would loath to admit it, Loderstedt is driven by the same quiet confidence and grinding determination he sees in Morsch.

As with so many things, the club’s rapid climb to success is a complicated matter, owing no small part to a very talented roster. Nevertheless, it would be hard to argue that the steady, determined leadership of Morsch and Loderstedt haven’t powered the club.

When the West Point team takes the ice against Navy 4:30 p.m. Saturday, the event represents a huge milestone for the club, as much as it does for the pair from northern New Jersey.

                     Army-Navy Club Hockey begins
The Army-Navy hockey game, the first installment of the rivalry to be hosted on the ice at West Point, will be free to the public and no ticket will be required for admission to the event.

Since the Naval Academy doesn’t have an NCAA ice hockey program, the nascent club from USMA represents the first opportunity to ice the storied Army-Navy rivalry. The event promises to be a significant event for the West Point, as much as for the northern New Jersey hockey community that has helped make the game possible.

When the puck drops on Valentine’s Day, Morsch, Loderstedt and the West Point club hope to fill Tate Rink’s 2,648 seats with the support of West Point and the surrounding community as they challenge a Naval Academy squad that has paced Division 1 play in the region.

The cadets will likely enter the game a slight underdog, but if their history tells us anything, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against the pair from Mendham High School.