Roller hockey hopes to ‘blossom’
Newly recognized club offers alternative to Arizona ice hockey
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Potential future Arizona Wildcats Inline Hockey Club coach Steve Lee, guides practice at Tucson Indoor Sports Center on Monday October 24.
After brilliantly decking an opponent, the Arizona forward skates straight at the goal before sliding the puck past a helpless defender to his teammate.
No, this isn’t a description of the Arizona ice hockey team; it’s a description of the Arizona roller hockey team.
Two club hockey teams are now at the UA, and the newly formed roller team hopes to garner the same support as the Arizona ice hockey squad.
“Thinking long term, I would love for this to just blow up and eventually be related in popularity to the ice team,” assistant captain Karl Naaf said.
Unlike the Arizona ice hockey team, which began in 1979 as the Icecats and became a club team this year, the roller hockey squad has no past history to lean on.
“It kind of started off as a joke,” freshman Kevin Smith said.
Brian Gura, one of the presidents and a goalkeeper for the team, suggested that he and his friends start a roller team. After quickly agreeing, the small group of dormmates soon branched out, and after recruiting more teammates, they became recognized as an official club last spring, Smith said.
With things finally rolling, the team has all the resources it needs to become a legitimate organization.
The club already has two complete rosters, a first team in the top division of the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association and a second team in the B division.
“I hear talk around the events that the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (the league Arizona is in) has some of the best talent,” captain Alex Wisniewski said. “I’m from the Midwest area, and I’ve seen a lot of hockey, and there is a lot of talent here.”
Roller hockey isn’t just used as a training exercise for ice players in the offseason, it’s become a sport in itself. There are roller hockey hotbeds all across the South, Smith said, and Wisniewski added that the sport has grown a lot in California and Arizona.
The advantages of roller hockey are particularly obvious in Tucson, because ice is hard to come by. The Tucson Convention Center, a stadium that seats more than 6,000, has the only available ice.
And things are now underway for the Wildcats. They have already started the season, playing in an event in San Jose, Calif., on Oct. 15, where they lost all four games.
“It was a big adjustment seeing some of these real high level teams,” Naaf said. “We definitely learned a lot. It opened our eyes a bit to it, and we just hope to progress from there.”
The team’s home is the Tucson Indoor Sports Center, and while the players hope it will eventually have equal fame to the TCC, they are currently just enjoying the opportunity to play hockey for the UA.
“Roller hockey, ice hockey,” Naaf said, “it’s all hockey, so we’d love to see that blossom.”