Experienced Squad Eyes Redemption

    UCSD junior and club roller hockey team captain Brian Keefe and senior defenseman Thi Tran know what it’s like to watch a team grow from inexperienced underdogs to national competitors. Now they want to know what it’s like to be champions.

    “This is our fifth season as an official team, and we’ve had a great progression in the last five years,” Tran said. “We went from a bunch of guys just wanting to play competitive hockey to a nationally ranked program.”

    When Tran helped start the program almost five years ago, the thought of vying for a national championship seemed out of reach. A lot has changed since 2002.

    “The rate of our progress is truly amazing,” Tran said. “Every year the team makes great leaps and bounds to goals that seemed out of reach the year before. Expect a national championship this year or the next.”

    The Triton hockey team has improved every season. In 2003 the team went 7-10-1. The next season it improved to 15-2-1 in the regular season, along with a second-place finish in the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League Championship and an appearance in the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association Division II Tournament.

    Last season the team went 15-1-2, finishing second; in the WCRHL Championship with a narrow loss to the University of Nevada-Reno Wolf Pack, the perennial WCRHL champions and national title contenders.

    “Last year allowed us to realize our potential,” Keefe said. He hopes the team will excel in all aspects of the game to win a national championship.

    Last season, Chris Armour, who had previously coached the A team, instead coached the B team, leaving Keef to pick up the slack by acting as a player and coach.

    “The hardest thing we have faced is progressing without a coach,” Keefe said. “Without a coach we have had problems with what to practice, and what styles and strategies to use in the game.”

    Despite dedicating his energy to coaching, Keefe had the second most assists on the team, behind standout senior defenseman Marc Toso.

    “Brian Keefe did a great job as captain and player/coach,” sophomore defenseman Jeff Ponton said. “He held the team together and was able to play remarkable defense. Not to mention he was one of our top scorers.”

    In the regional championship last season, the Tritons lost to the Wolf Pack in a heartbreaker. With three seconds left on the clock, Keefe took a shot at the tying goal that narrowly missed because a player pushed the net off its mark. University of Nevada-Reno once again repeated as league champions, with a controversial 4-3 victory.

    “We would have won if my wrist was not hurting,” said Toso, who led the team last season with 39 goals and 30 assists. Torso has led the team in scoring the last three seasons.

    UCSD would go on to lose in the NCRHA Championship quarterfinals to the State University of New York at Brockport, 6-3. Toso did not score in the season-ending loss.

    “Marc Toso is hands-down the best player in the program,” Tran said. “He sets an example for the rest of the team — not through words, but through his actions on the rink.”

    Every player returns this season to the Tritons except forward Ryan Fisher. Led again by Toso, Keefe and junior forwards Robin Fago and Brandon Chew, the Tritons will once again attempt to knock off University of Nevada-Reno and make a run for a national championship.

    “As the core group of players enters its third season together, the players have gained a sense of maturity and knowledge that only time can develop,” Tran said. “As a hockey team, you want players to know how each other work so that what seems to be chaos on the rink from a casual fan’s perspective is actually a well-oiled machine.”

    The roller hockey team is currently in the recruitment process, and is holding tryouts Oct 4 at Rec Gym. The Tritons will kick off the season at the WCRHL tournament Oct. 20-23 in San Jose, Calif. The tournament will feature all league teams, including the defending champions, the Wolf Pack.

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