Creating a legacy: GVSU men’s DIII hockey continues tradition of giving back to community

GVL / Dylan McIntyre. Saturday, January 27, 2018. Grand Valley D3 vs Hope college for

GVL / Dylan McIntyre. Saturday, January 27, 2018. Grand Valley D3 vs Hope college for "GVSU Fights Cancer".

Louis Ricard

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Sports help to unite people. They are a source of entertainment, a source of passion for the fans and a source of adrenaline for the athletes. 

Sometimes, sports can go beyond their primary purpose. Sometimes, they help turn a tragedy into an incredible story, uniting players, fans and everyone around them.

The Grand Valley State men’s Division III club hockey team did just that. This past weekend, the club raised more than $7,000 (and counting) during their “Hockey Fights Cancer” game against Hope College on Saturday, Jan. 27. 

However, this is only the beginning.

Captain Alex Bjork started this tradition at GVSU about three years ago, inspired after his grandpa had passed away from the disease. 

“I had some buddies playing at Aquinas, and I saw that they were doing a Hockey Fights Cancer with the Van Andel Institute,” Bjork said. “So, I reached out to them and they gave me some contact information and that’s when it took off.”

After the first year, GVSU had raised more than $1,000 that went to the Van Andel Institute. The following year, the club raised $1,500. According to head coach Charlie Link, this has been a long time coming.

“It’s just grown since we started, and the players took it to a whole other level this year,” Link said.

Although the cancer-awareness game got the most attention, GVSU hockey has been involved in the community in many different ways. The club held fundraisers for members of the military and special-needs hockey players, and a brain-cancer-awareness game in honor of a player’s parent who passed away this last summer.

“It’s not just hockey: We’re trying to make young people successful in what they want to do in their career,” Link said. “It’s just a great way to give them the exposure to the real world as far as what kind of impact they can have on everybody.”

The team also decided to unite with GVSU fraternity Delta Sigma Phi, which helped organize the fundraisers and shine more light on the event. Vice President Zach Ebsch said his fraternity felt compelled to help, as five members are from the hockey team. One of the former members happened to be Alex Siroky, the player who lost his parent to brain cancer last summer. 

“We felt so bad because he had to drop the process and go back home and miss school for a few weeks,” Ebsch said. “We still cared about him and his family even though he wasn’t in the fraternity.”

GVSU fraternities are required to participate in a local and a national philanthropy event, and Ebsch, along with his brothers, decided to seize advantage of their platform. After talking to the club, Delta Sigma Phi had several alumni and current members donate money to the Van Andel Institute. The fraternity also designed T-shirts that they sold to the entire Greek community, raising a total of $3,484.

Ebsch could barely contain his excitement when mentioning the partnership his fraternity and the hockey club developed. 

“The purpose of college is building friendships and networking, and meet all kinds of personalities and cultural backgrounds,” Ebsch said. “We did this because we care about our brother and we wanted to get involved with the community.”

Bjork knows this is only the beginning, and though he paved the way for his successors, he has faith in the younger players to do just as well, if not better. Link is on the same page as his captain. 

“We will have the same amount of involvement,” Link said. “We already have guys set to take over next year. We’ll continue to do what we’ve already built up.”

GVSU hockey set the bar high for the following years and most importantly sent a message across all campuses. Sports do unite people, although they shouldn’t be the only way to do so. 

“It doesn’t have to be with sports,” Link said. “It has to be anybody. Just your normal person should be giving back as much as possible.”

In his four years with GVSU, Bjork learned something that will last with him for a lifetime, and it cannot be found in a book or on the ice rink. 

“Don’t be afraid to get involved,” Bjork said. “The organizations we’ve partnered with have been really easy to work with, and it’s been very self-fulfilling to see events like this grow and know that as small as you are you can have an impact on many lives.”