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The University of Colorado is no stranger to transitional years in athletics, and the Buffaloes’ club hockey program, created in 1967, is once again lifting off. Everything about the current squad is brand-new, from the coaching staff to a roster filled with underclassmen. Fortunately, these new faces are equipped with talent, high-level experience and a passion to reboot CU hockey.
Head coach Eric Ballard, hired in July 2013, holds athletes to NCAA Division I standards, despite the program’s club status at the university.
“We want to make sure CU hockey is synonymous with professionalism, class and integrity,” said Ballard, a former junior coach. “If you don’t model yourself after the best, you’ll never be the best. We do treat it like an NCAA program.”
CU participates in the Western Collegiate Hockey League, essentially a six-team conference created by both CU and CSU that includes squads from Arizona and Oklahoma. Whether the Buffs will ever upgrade from the WCHL to official NCAA status is a question for the future, Ballard said. Right now, the focus is on molding the roster of mostly freshman that came out for tryouts back in August.
“Our freshman class is really deep, [so] there’s no question the future’s really looking good,” Ballard said. “We don’t match up man-for-man on a nightly basis, but these guys work really hard, they listen and they’re coachable.”
Freshman forward Pierce Maty topped the team’s goal total for the season at 12, contributing a point per game. Having played AA and AAA hockey in high school, Maty recognizes the expertise of the new coaching staff and the potential of the program.
“I like that all the coaches have a good background,” Maty said. “They know what they’re talking about and can add a lot to this team. Sometimes it’s hard to find a chemistry, [but] I see us as a national contender in the next couple years.”
Other standout freshmen include forward David Coleman, who had seven goals this season, and goaltender Alex Palumbo. The Buffaloes hold a record of 8-13-1 on the season, but in his inaugural year at CU, Coach Ballard’s focus is not necessarily on wins and losses.
“Our main emphasis this year was to change the culture, change the atmosphere, get these student athletes going in the right direction and, more importantly, to recruit for the future,” Ballard said. “We’re behind the eight ball, but we’re gaining a lot of ground.”
Recruitment for next year has already begun, although club teams do not require official visits or national letters of intent. The Buffs are approaching a point where they can choose specialized players to fill voids on the ice, but for now the scope of recruiting extends “all over the world,” according to Ballard. Colorado shows particular interest in players with significant experience in high-level leagues, but welcomes any interested and talented players to tryouts.
The final piece of CU hockey’s puzzle is the brand new facility housed in the newly-renovated Recreation Center. Players and coaches see the rink and its accessibility to students as a tool to build a larger fan base on campus and in Boulder.
“I’d like to see [hockey] publicized,” Maty said. “I can see it as a big sport at CU.”
Coming off a 1-2 roadtrip in Utah, the Buffaloes will travel again this weekend to take on the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos and the Univeristy of Oklahoma Sooners. A two-day matchup against rival CSU will begin at the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland, Colo. on Jan. 31. The Buffs and Rams will face off again on Feb. 1 in the CU Rec Center at 7:30 p.m.
Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Jordyn Siemens at Jordyn.firstname.lastname@example.org.