On Oct. 28, 2016, Dominic Brenza pulled a Stevenson University jersey over his head and hit the ice.
Why was that date so significant? It was the first-ever NCAA Division 3 game for Stevenson University, based in Owings Mills, Md. Brenza went out with a mostly freshman lineup, he won 13 of 22 faceoffs and scored a power play goal, the fourth in school history.
Brenza and the Stevenson Mustangs won that game, 7-1, and went on through their first NCAA season to finish at 10-14-2.
“It was honestly awesome. I went in pretty optimistic, and it turned out really well,” said Brenza, an alum of the Connecticut Jr. Rangers program, of the USPHL. “It was awesome. The rest of the students seemed to be into it. They came to the games. Everybody’s really into the sports there.”
“Dominic Brenza had a tremendous impact for a first-year guy,” said Dominic Dawes, head coach of Stevenson. “As a new team, we relied heavily on a lot of young guys.”
Brenza scored 11 points in 24 games, and a 58.1 faceoff winning percentage (300-for-516). No other Stevenson player came close to taking as many faceoffs.
When Brenza first showed up for camp with the Connecticut Jr. Rangers in 2014, he already came in as a three-year junior veteran. He had a very respectable first year (18 points in 48 games), and then nearly doubled his first-year output with 34 points in 44 games in 2015-16.
It was between these two seasons that Stevenson took notice and began talking to Brenza.
“They first started talking to me before my last year in the USPHL. At that point, I had quite a few Division 3 schools talking to me. I was still feeling everything out and getting my options in order,” said Brenza. “It took me until the end of the year. When I figured out which schools were possibilities, I liked the idea of being part of a new team, as I had done with the Rangers in the USPHL.”
Dawes said that the USPHL was definitely a key scouting ground for the first Stevenson team. He ended up drawing Brenza, Frank Pinho and Mark Bowen from the Jr. Rangers. Nearly a quarter of Stevenson’s inaugural roster was drawn straight from the USPHL.
“Our recruiting was a little different. We were kind of everywhere looking at everyone. He’s from Lancaster County, in Pennsylvania, which is a little over an hour from our campus,” said Dawes. “[Being local] helps when you’re trying to grow a brand. And of course, there is the hockey – you have a kid who competes every single day.
“There were certain [teams] we built relationships with, but we were everywhere we needed to be to field a team,” Dawes added.
Brenza feels that he took a big step forward with Stevenson this year.
“My most specific areas of improvement were physicality and in my goal-scoring abilities,” said Brenza. “I was definitely bouncing between lines last year. Since most of the team was freshmen, none of us really knew each other.”
The USPHL was not only his step towards a hockey future, but college hockey opens worlds of educational possibilities for student-athletes.
“I’m majoring in Information Systems,” said Brenza. “Personally, I like the classroom sizes. Everything, all the facilities, are pretty much brand new.”
After spearheading first a USPHL franchise, and then a NCAA college, Brenza is all about “new.”