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With the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs in full action for the past two weeks, hockey fans from all over the nation (and, of course, Canada) have been tuning in to watch the most talented athletes the sport has to offer. Here in Colorado, NHL playoff dreams faded after the Colorado Avalanche finished in 11th place in the Western Conference.
But what many hockey fans in the state don’t know is that CU has some incredible hockey talent of its own — but instead of ice, these guys were on wheels.
That’s right: CU has a roller hockey team, and it’s everything but a joke of an athletic program.
Last weekend, CU roller hockey sent both its A and B teams to Kearns, Utah, just outside of Salt Lake City, to compete at the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) Championships. There, the A-team Buffs, who came into the tournament with a regular season record of 10-4-2, took on a few of the best roller hockey teams across the country and put on a very memorable performance.
Senior A-team captain Evan Meredith said that the National Championships consisted of a round-robin group play that went into a single-elimination sweet-16 bracket.
“In our pool play we started off against Texas State University-San Marcos and we beat them 10-2,” Meredith said. “We then played Kansas State University who we beat 10-6, and then Friday the 13th we beat the University of Florida 7-3. From there we went into the tournament bracket and we beat Binghamton University, a New York school, and then later that day we played Northeastern University, a team from Boston, and we lost to them 2-0.”
A-team head coach Jim Steinberg said the game against Northeastern was a hard fought contest by both teams.
“It [the Northeastern game] was actually 0-0 for quite awhile,” Steinberg said. “We just found it a little harder to crack their goalie, and they weren’t able to crack our goalie. Both teams played very well, and we played the style we wanted to. That’s just what happens when you match up two extremely competitive teams.”
The CU B-team did even better, going to the final four in the B Division bracket. Unfortunately, the team lost to Westchester University and took third overall in the division.
Going this far at the national championships was a huge step for this up-and-coming CU athletic program. For a player like Meredith, who has been on the team for the past four years, huge improvements in all areas of the program have been evident.
“I started off my freshman year, and we weren’t very good,” Meredith said. “Going into my sophomore year, I was kind of thrown into the position of president of the hockey club, and it all got better from there. We got a great coach in Jim Steinberg my junior year, and finally in my senior year we turned it around completely with the help of a couple awesome, young players like sophomore Zach Clawson, who was huge for us this year. Not only did we have a winning record, but we got a national bid. It was really great to see how the club has turned around going from a losing team to a national championship contender.”
Although talent always helps, it was the team’s chemistry this past year that really made the CU roller hockey team excel.
“From my perspective, this year’s team was the best chemistry group I’ve been aware of in the five years I’ve known the team,” Steinberg said. “Everybody supported each other, everyone had different roles and everyone accepted those roles and supported each other on being able to deliver on those roles.”
Even with the success of this past year, CU roller hockey is just getting started. With incredible talent from the B-team coming up and great returning players also coming back, the team should continue to improve. In addition, as the CU ice hockey team has decided to go from two teams to one, some talented hockey players may decide to make the switch from ice skates to roller blades.
Sophomore defenseman Clawson, who led the team in goals this year with 21, said it’s definitely worth it to join CU’s roller hockey team, even though switching is sometimes frowned upon by hockey players.
“For those of you guys that play ice hockey and don’t think that roller hockey is a real sport, think again,” Clawson said. “It’s highly competitive, we play teams from all over, it’s very high scoring and the competition is at a high level. With the talent that we have, especially with the dedication from our players, I could see us going to nationals for the next couple of years, easily.”
So you think you have what it takes to be a CU roller hockey player? Check out the team’s Facebook page for more information on how to get involved and even try out for next year’s team next September.
“With a campus of CU’s size, we deserve and hopefully will get a bigger group of talent trying out next year,” Steinberg said. “Hopefully the success of the team will help to interest kids who have a roller or ice background. We definitely welcome anyone who has that kind of hockey background. It’s a very competitive program that we ended up developing, and it’s just building on the success that we’ve had in the past couple years.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Joseph Wirth at Joseph.firstname.lastname@example.org.