Michael Panchery Leads the Scarlet Knights In the Empire: Overcoming Challenges, Achieving Success

by Justin Miller

The Rutgers University Scarlet Knights are in the midst of their first season as members of the AAU’s Empire Conference. They have a 6-8 record in AAU play and an 8-9 record overall through the first half of the season. Being a part of this league has allowed them to play in one of the most competitive landscapes they’ve experienced in their careers.

Scarlet Knights team president and assistant captain Michael Panchery discussed that and several of the other best aspects of their inaugural season in the AAU. “The level of play is definitely higher than where we’re coming from,” said Panchery. “There’s some great teams that we’ve played, from Farmingdale to Quinnipiac… getting the opportunity to go out against them every night is awesome.” He also mentioned the value of having a stage for him and his teammates to be able to play the game at a high level. “It’s a great opportunity for players who want to keep playing college hockey, but not necessarily at the NCAA level, to play at the highest level possible and get those benefits that college hockey players have,” said Panchery.

On the ice, Panchery and the Scarlet Knights have had to face some adversity while facing some tough opponents. “We haven’t played with a full roster since our first or second game of the season,” said Panchery. The Scarlet Knights lost a number of players throughout the first half of the year due to injuries and eligibility issues. In addition, Panchery has had to adapt to a new role in playing with this team. “I had to switch from forward to defense because we’re very forward-heavy and don’t have a lot of defensemen,” said Panchery. Despite these struggles, the Scarlet Knights have managed to find a great deal of success. The team’s 8-9 overall record is an achievement in itself, of which Panchery said, “It’s probably the best record that this program has had over the last couple of years.” One of the Scarlet Knights' biggest stretches of success came during their participation in the East Coast Showdown in November. “We swept the tournament… that was a fun moment for us, getting to go 3-0 on the weekend and crushing our opponents there,” said Panchery. “I think that really got the boys fired up and raised the morale.” It’s a feat that will serve the Scarlet Knights well as they look ahead to the Empire Conference playoffs later this season.

Playing at the highest level possible is part of Rutgers’ goal of elevating the status of hockey at the university. “We wanted to make our program much better in terms of organization,” said Panchery. He cited the hiring of their head coach, Tony Thomas, who has experience playing NCAA Division I with Air Force, as part of that process. Panchery also noted several other key factors in improving the program. This includes their partnership with ProSkate Arena, unlimited access to a training center, a prospect camp, and the hiring of a game day operations staff along with a media team. “Rutgers is a huge school in the Big 10, and it’s unfortunate that we don't have an NCAA program,” said Panchery. “We’re doing everything we can to build that culture around hockey at our school.”