The four N.C. State seniors sat side by side Wednesday at Carter-Finley Stadium, looking out at a unique sight: a hockey rink on the football field.
All four are in their 20s, one studying aerospace engineering and another applied mathematics. Soon, the four will be NCSU graduates and likely out in the business world.
But on this day, they gazed out and could daydream a bit. Members of N.C. State’s club hockey team, the Icepack, will also get their chance to play on the rink.
“For my last home game to be an outdoor game at Carter-Finley as an N.C. State lifelong fan and student, it’s surreal,” forward Alex Robinson said last week.
The big show was Saturday night. That’s when the 2023 NHL Stadium Series outdoor game was held at Carter-Finley, the Carolina Hurricanes beating the Washington Capitals 4-1 before 57,000 fans.
Now, it’s the Icepack’s turn on the ice outdoors. The opponent: North Carolina.
State and Carolina at Carter-Finley. A lot of football memories have been made through the years. Now, some hockey memories will be made, too.
“It’s awesome,” Victor Hugo, the Icepack team captain, said last week. “I don’t think any of us would have ever dreamed we’d be playing hockey in our football stadium.”
And to be playing UNC?
“We get to play them a lot so obviously there’s a big rivalry there,” Hugo said. “And obviously there’s a rivalry throughout all the sports.”
When the Wolfpack and Tar Heels last clashed in football at Carter-Finley, N.C. State’s Emeka Emezie sandwiched late touchdown catches around a successful onside kick by the Pack’s Christopher Dunn to pull out a comeback victory in November 2021.
There won’t be 57,000 in the stands Monday night when the Pack and Heels face off on the ice, but the turnout should be large and loud. A recent State-Carolina hockey game at Invisalign Arena in Morrisville packed the stands, and the “Frozen Finley” game Monday at 7 p.m. will follow the Hurricanes’ Alumni Game at 4 p.m.
UNC has won three of four games against N.C. State in the 2022-23 season., spoiling the Icepack’s Senior Night. The Tar Heels also have used social media to troll the Icepack leading up to the outdoor game, tweeting that a “blizzard is coming to Carter-Finley on Monday.”
The Icepack players and coach Tim Healy are appreciative that the Hurricanes and NCSU have helped make this happen.
“Most of us are from North Carolina and obviously you don’t expect to be playing outside in this type of weather,” Matt Miller, a senior forward, said. “For them to do it for us is really nice, and especially in a stadium where the football team plays and we come here all the time as students to watch.”
And these are students who choose to play hockey, mostly at their own expense, not on scholarships. They’re not headed to the NHL.
Hugo, the aerospace engineering major, said he already has a job lined up with Northrup Grumman in Virginia in the tactical space systems division.
The Icepack program is not funded by N.C. State’s athletic department. It’s a member of the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League (ACCHL) and competes in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) as a Division II program.
NCSU athletic director Boo Corrigan said there are no plans to make men’s hockey a NCAA Division I sport, saying, “Not at this point.”
Hugo, from Arlington, Virginia, said he played youth hockey in the Caps’ programs in Washington, at times using the team’s practice facility. He noted that as a freshman at N.C. State, the Icepack practiced and competed at the Raleigh IcePlex, saying, “We had a locker room that used to be a snack bar.”
The Icepack has since moved to Wake Competition Center and have their own locker room at Invisalign Arena. Now, they’ll get an outdoor game.
“To go from that to having an opportunity to play in this kind of environment, I never thought I would see it and I’m super excited for it,” Hugo said.