Roller Hockey Headed to Nationals

    The UCSD Division-II men’s roller hockey team is having a breakout year, finishing first in the West Coast Roller Hockey League with an 18-2-2 record. Since the winner of the WCRHL earns an automatic bid to nationals in South Carolina, the Tritons will be heading to the tournament with a No. 1 ranking in the West Region.

    This year’s team is finally giving the Tritons and the roller hockey community something to talk about after years of being overlooked by fans of more popular sports.

    Sophomore Robin Fargo explains the frustrations in spreading the word.

    “Being such a new team, getting our name out that we are a competitive team is tough,” he said. “Not many people know UCSD has an ice hockey team, let alone a roller hockey team.”

    There are many things that set the team apart from the rest, the most obvious being the fact that they do not have a coach.

    “I think it is an interesting approach and one I’ve never seen before,” freshman Richard Ewing said. “But it seems to be working well for us, and I think it does make us have a lot more self-responsibility and hold one another accountable.”

    The closest person to having a leadership role is the captain, sophomore Brian Keefe, who holds a bit more weight on his shoulders.

    “As a captain, I find it hard to make everyone happy,” Keefe said. “You don’t want conflicts with your teammates because that just creates a bad practice environment.”

    Besides improving his relationship with his teammates, being a leader has taught Keefe a lot that he would not have learned if he was only a player. According to Keefe, studying the game to teach his players has made him see the game in a different way.

    As if coaching themselves didn’t say enough about these players, they also battle through the frustrations of being labeled a club team, which forces them to be mostly self-sufficient financially and leaves them without a proper practice facility.

    “Hopefully as our program grows, we can move up to tier one and receive better funding,” Fago said.

    The lack of funding hurts players, who must finance their expensive equipment individually and practice in an environment unfit for roller hockey.

    “Roller hockey is expensive, period,” Keefe said. “All our gear costs us already-poor college students a lot of money. On top of that, we pay registration fees and travel expenses, and as a club team, we don’t get much help.”

    Keefe also expressed disappointment in UCSD’s lack of a good rink for hockey competition.

    “Not having a decent rink around is probably our biggest problem,” Keefe said. “A local rink would cut down costs and help a great deal during practice.”

    The only benefit of an underfunded practice facility is it forces the players to be tougher as they are slammed into concrete walls during practice, compared to the more forgiving boards during games.

    Despite these struggles, the team’s players are still willing to work hard for their wins three times a week in practice.

    “High-level hockey requires crisp, tape-to-tape passes; one odd-man rush can be ruined by a bad pass,” Keefe said. “One bad pass can equal a breakaway for the other team, a mistake that cannot be taken back.”

    Keefe also said that the team focuses a lot of time on making sure everyone is on the same page come game time. Predicting player positioning on the rink requires an element of team chemistry that has been steadily rising among teammates since the beginning of the season.

    “We’ve also worked a lot on flowing as a team and expecting where each other is going,” Keefe said.

    Every hockey fan loves the sound of players slamming into rink walls, but there is a lot more skill required of this tradition.

    “A lot of times we do body drills to learn how to tie up an opponent in any situation without getting a penalty,” Keefe said. “Since college is more physical, we need practice to adapt to that.”

    That practice has been paying off, as the players have been able to mirror the techniques they’ve been perfecting in game situations.

    “Our team pretty much pulls off exactly what we practice in games, which is pretty crazy,” junior Marc Toso said.

    Maintaining this high level of competition is difficult with new players being added to the system every year.

    “It just takes a while to develop with new players like myself because the team is a lot different from last year,” Ewing said.

    Although it has taken awhile, the team has developed a certain bond.

    “Our team has come together so well this year and our chemistry in games compared to our first tournament is unbelievable,” Keefe said. “We all get along pretty well. Being in the locker room before games is usually quite entertaining.”

    Although the locker room hosts fun and games, the Tritons become much more serious when they roll onto the rink at the start of their games, just as they did this last weekend when they traveled to Upland, Calif., for the regional tournament.

    The Tritons started the tournament with three clutch wins over the University of Reno, Long Beach State and Evergreen Community College — the three teams right below UCSD in the standings. However, after the strong start, the Tritons suffered a tragic one-point loss in the March 5 championship game against University of Reno, the same team they beat the preceding day. After making only three of their 45 shots in the game, the Tritons found themselves behind 4-3 with 13 seconds left in the final period. Keefe scored an unbelievable goal that would have tied the game, had the referees not disallowed it. The zebras took away the goal due to what they called a “dead play,” meaning the net was out of position.

    “It was a fair call,” Keefe said. “Even though the net being off didn’t really affect the goal since it was right smack in the middle … that’s how it goes sometimes.”

    The final loss set a somber mood for the Tritons, most of whom felt they deserved the game-tying goal.

    “The whole locker room was quiet following that game,” Fago said. “We should not have been in the position of being down by one point so late in the game in the first place.”

    Ewing agreed that the Tritons could have played better, but still was not happy about the ending.

    “I think the loss was a bit cheap, but I know we didn’t play our best,” he said. “We had a lot of shots and our defense played well. We just need to work on finishing and capitalizing on the power play.”

    Despite their disappointment about losing in the championship game, the Tritons are confident that they can overcome the tough loss and play well in nationals. In fact, Toso thinks that the loss will make the team work harder and become even better.

    “Losing to UN Reno makes you forget about all the wins earlier in the season,” Toso said. “We’re going to continue to work on puck movement and positioning. We hesitated too much on the power play and will definitely fix that before nationals.”

    Keefe took a similar attitude.

    “I have a lot of faith in our team,” he said. “I think we can do really well at nationals, which is something teams around the nation don’t expect.”

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