The Cal Poly roller hockey club team may not have the most visible fan base or an on-campus rink – but that doesn’t keep its members from doing what they love, and doing it well.
Last year, the Mustangs went 10-5-3 before falling in March at the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League Regional Championships at the Roller Hockey Center in Irvine.
Tryouts for this year’s squad will be held the first weekend of fall quarter. Although a specific time is not set, they’re generally held for two hours on a Saturday and Sunday at the roller rink in Santa Maria.
According to club president and senior defenseman Ryan Kokubun, only about half of the players (usually about 60) who try out actually make the team.
“All of our A team players have been playing competitive hockey for their whole career,” Kokubun said. “That’s the type of caliber player we would look to recruit.”
Kokubun voiced a desire to attract offensively skilled talent.
“We lost two of our leading scorers from last year,” he said. “I’m a defenseman, so I’m hoping to try to recruit or especially try to work on developing a better offense for next year.”
Senior forward Daniel Wood said the team could use more complete players, “combining all aspects of the game” to form a more “well-rounded team that plays both offense and defense together.”
However the new team takes shape, UC Santa Barbara will likely be its foremost adversary, in a rivalry Kokubun says stems not only from UCSB’s close proximity but an offseason scrimmage that used to be held between the two.
“They have a rink that was built on campus not too long ago,” he said. “They hosted their first tournament there . . . There were about a hundred people who came out to watch and had signs specifically for the game against Cal Poly.”
But when asked about Cal Poly’s fan base in San Luis Obispo, Kokubun laughed.
“It’s usually like a couple of the guys’ girlfriends that come out to the tournaments, or maybe like some of the parents in the area,” he said.
That may change after the university gets an indoor sports facility as part of the Recreation Center’s renovation.
“A lot of the guys would probably take it a little more seriously having a facility on campus,” Kokubun said. “It would definitely enable us to get our name out there more.”
Former club president and forward Matt Lien said most students don’t even realize Cal Poly has a roller hockey club team.
“San Luis doesn’t really promote hockey,” Wood added. “It’s more of a beach town and when people think of hockey they think ice.”
Having a strong following at home could also give the team more confidence.
“It would add a little more pressure for times when we do practice,” Kokubun said. “It would up our competitive level and, by attracting more people, it gives us that much more adrenaline when we’re playing.”
Although Kokubun considers Cal Poly one of the strongest roller hockey teams on the West Coast, he said it’s not on a national scale because people from the West Coast aren’t too familiar with ice hockey.
“I think it’s more of their culture (on the East Coast) to play ice hockey than roller hockey,” Kokubun said. “So they go out on the ice naturally, which does require a lot more physical skill than roller hockey does.”
Because an ice hockey puck is bigger and heavier than in roller hockey, ice hockey players generally have more strength in the rink.
“All of these kids who go to big universities . . . they train for ice hockey and in the offseason they play roller hockey instead,” Kokubun explained. “A lot of them are potential ice hockey Division I players, and for that reason I think our team starts to struggle against those schools.”
Wood transferred to Cal Poly from Weber State, where he was admitted on an ice hockey scholarship. After transferring, he heard about the roller hockey club and made the switch from blades to wheels.
“It’s more of a laid-back game,” he said. “It’s not as fast-tempo, and more about individual skill.”
When the season starts, the team will hold a formal practice once a week (at the rink in Santa Maria) and a weekly casual scrimmage at Santa Rosa Park.
Tentatively, the schedule accounts for one or two tournaments each month throughout fall quarter and halfway through winter quarter.
Regional competition takes place at the end of winter quarter, followed at the national level in the spring.