TCU hockey player tries to leave lasting legacy, build sport's popularity

A Texas native finds his place in a not so common Southern sport.

When not on the ice or studying in the library, Papes likes to kick back and play guitar. (TCU 360/Tyler Christensen) Papes (bottom row, right) started playing inline hockey before ice hockey, losing his teeth a different way than most kids his age. His father (top row, left) coached all the inline teams that Papes played for up until he started playing on a  traveling ice hockey team.  (TCU 360/Tyler Christensen) Papes during pregame warm-ups this past season. (TCU 360/Tyler Christensen) Papes played for the Houston Hitmen, a traveling ice hockey team between the ages 12 and 14. (TCU 360/Tyler Christensen)
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Icy, cold weather isn’t the norm in the southern region of the United States, along with the sports that come with it. For one TCU student though, one winter sport has molded him into the person he is today: ice hockey.

For senior economics major Michael Papes, playing on TCU's club ice hockey team is just another way to do something he’s loved doing since he was young.

“I love it when people ask me the question: ‘Why do you play hockey?,’” Papes said. “You know, the fact that it’s something that every single kid played or plays is unique.”

A native from The Woodlands, Texas, Papes saw no possibility in playing on the collegiate level after playing year-round select hockey on a triple-A team, a step before the high school level.

Papes simply wanted to keep on playing the game with a group of guys that had that same mentality.

“For me personally, I’m playing for the love of the game because I can’t quite hang up my skates yet,” Papes said. “TCU ice hockey is a fantastic program, and [the team] and I want to be able to leave a lasting legacy that doesn’t crumble after [we] graduate, like some of the other [hockey] teams in the past."

"We’re just trying to create a solid foundation upon which we can go back in five years and see that the organization is still alive and growing.”

A co-captain and natural leader, according to other teammates and past coaches, Papes tries to encourage those skeptical about joining the team that the program is about fun competition.

“We all have those milestones that keep us going, those achievements that make us feel good about our accomplishments,” Papes said. “After I made captain of my high school team, I felt I was getting more than just athletic drive and competitive nature from the sport.

"Internally, I was really learning how to develop as a leader and how to set an example, how to improve myself individually.”

Hockey wasn’t the only sport Papes “tried out” either. Cross country and soccer were among the few sports he played. It was the involvement and joy his father, Todd Papes, instilled that really drove Michael to keep playing the game.

“I love watching Michael play hockey,” Todd Papes said. “I think that participating in any team sport is important as far as the team spirit and comradery; as long as it’s a distraction, which sometimes it can turn into that."

"I know he’s always had a passion for hockey since he was little and I think it’s great that he’s part of the club team.”

With all the traveling and time spent on the select team out of Houston, Papes said his son still had time to be a kid.

“I still reflect on a lot of the memories made when he was playing at a young age,” Papes said.

“When he was 12 or 13 years old, I remember being at an Embassy Suites somewhere and he [and his teammates] were just terrorizing the hotel. We were just sitting there at the bar watching these kids go in and out of stairwells, trying to evade hotel security guards. It was just comical.”

Jeff Washbrook, head coach of the Houston Hitmen, Papes' old select team, said Papes was able to pick up on the aspects of the game very quickly, while at the same time provide leadership in putting drive in others on the team.

“I would pretty much go to him when I was having an issue and I needed someone that everyone would follow, someone to lead by example” Washbrook said. “He was very mature for his age…and now, he’s more immature for his age [laughs].”

Washbrook also mentioned since coaching Michael at an early age, he’s become friends with his family. When Papes played for the team, he knew when to be serious and when to have fun at the right times, Washbrook said.

One of Papes’ teammates, Jake Wallstedt, a junior management major who plays center for the TCU hockey team, said Papes is one of those players that really bring the team together.

“He helps establish a really good team [closeness],” Wallstedt said. “He’s always looking to get the guys together, off the ice, so that were not just teammates but friends. Not a selfish guy at all.”

Also the current vice president of the TCU hockey team, Wallstedt said despite being in a region of limited hockey fandom, he and the rest of the team still play like there’s no tomorrow.

“There’s not a lot of northern representation on our team but, for the guys on the team, hockey is what we love," Wallstedt said.

"It’s what we grew up playing, the only thing we watch on TV. There’s not a lack of competitive mentality or perspective of the sport in Michael and the rest of the team.”

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