More than a game: York College ice hockey strives to make a difference

Ryan Vandersloot
For The York Dispatch

While there are a handful of York College athletic programs that generate a lot of attention, the men’s ice hockey team is not one of them.

Not officially a NCAA Division III sanctioned sport at the college, the team hopes that will change someday soon.

“We’re playing club hockey,” York College coach Rick Guinan said. “And we take it seriously. Our ultimate goal is to become a Division III program.”

More than just hockey: As much as Guinan and his players love the sport and competing on a daily basis, Guinan loves that there is more to the program. Case in point, the Spartans, who play their home games at York Ice Arena, have been working with the York Polar Bears hockey organization for a couple of years. The Polar Bears are a group of players who participate in the American Special Hockey Association.

“The Polar Bears are a great group to be around,” Guinan said. “All of these kids are developmentally delayed and range in ages from very young to young adults. They play and practice at the York rink as well, and our players register through their organization and serve as mentors and assist them.”

The York College men also select a member of the Polar Bears as an honorary captain for each home game, which is a big thrill for Guinan’s players as well as the selected individual.

“It’s great,” Guinan said. “They get to come into the locker room and we introduce them to the team and then they skate out with us and lead us for our warmup. It’s just been a really excellent program.”

Life lessons: So, too, has the benefit that Guinan and the York College men have started to benefit the Polar Bears organization. This weekend, the two teams came together at the York Ice Arena for the second annual ‘Good People Doing Good Things’ charity event. Last year the event raised just over $10,000 and Guinan believes this year's final tabulation will end up closer to $15,000.

“I can’t say this enough — the York Polar Bears are just an amazing organization,” Guinan said. “And talk about having great life lessons for our college guys, and to just to be involved with that is amazing. To see how much those kids look up our players is just inspiring.”

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The two programs split into two teams Saturday for a "game," although the outcome was insignificant. The experience was the most important thing, and Guinan feels that it couldn’t have gone any better.

“One little kid came up and asked me, ‘Is No. 20 on my team?’” Guinan said. “Because that’s his favorite player — Evan Kays. And he got to spend time with Evan on the ice before the game. And when he’s off the ice, he’s locked in watching Evan and he wants to see Evan score a goal. So, it was just really nice to see the smiles on the faces of all of the kids, and it was nice to see a ton of the same kids come back again.”

One player on the Polar Bears actually drew the attention of the York College goalie when he stepped into the locker room Saturday, according to Guinan.

Rick Guinan

“Playing hockey costs a lot of money, the gear and everything,” Guinan said. “And then the Polar Bears goalie walked into the locker room dressed in his gear, and my goalies were just in shock with just how nice his pads were. And they told this young kid — David is his name — how jealous they were, and you could just see the big smile on his face from ear to ear. They just made that kid’s day right there.”

Aiming to make a difference: That is exactly why Guinan, who teaches at Central York High School, is more than happy to spend his free time coaching the York College program.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make (York) a more attractive destination for hockey players,” Guinan said. “Not only are we trying to do good things on the ice, but we’re also trying to be involved with the community. We’ve had military nights where we raised money for our veterans and breast cancer night where we sold jerseys to raise money and we had special jerseys today that were sponsored by a State Farm agent, Vince Cerceo.”

Cerceo was also the one who helped the team achieve its $10,000 goal last season with his generosity.

“He actually thanked me for getting him involved with this,” Guinan said. “That’s how nice of a guy that he is. And I just thanked him for being such a great supporter. Last year we were so close to our $10,000 goal and were just a few hundred dollars short and he just asked, ‘How much are you short?’ and then he goes ‘Well, you’re not short anymore … I’ll send it.' So Vince was out here and we had a jersey for him that all of our players signed.”