Hockey: Just as fun on wheels

You won’t hear about it on many newscasts, and games won’t be televised on ESPN any time soon. Roller hockey has been around for a while, but the lack of commercialism has lead to its limited awareness.

The USF roller hockey club started in 2001 but wasn’t recognized as a club sport until this year. Even with the Bulls going to the Sweet Sixteen of the national championship five out of the last six years, they still encountered difficulty expanding and getting public exposure.

“If you want glory, then roller hockey isn’t going to be your sport,” said club President Steven Regan. “I would like for more people to be aware of what we are doing and care about it. It could be one more reason to come to USF.”

The six-month season starts in October and concludes in March. A series of tournaments comprises the USF roller hockey season, and the club hopes to end it at the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association Championship (NCRHA) tournament. In the team’s six years as a club sport, USF roller hockey has gone to the Elite Eight twice. The 2003-2004 season was the club’s best with a 17-2-1 record. They fell short, however, to Lindenwood University, which has won the championship each of the last five years.

“I am proud to say that I am a part of the best season that the roller hockey team has had since the club was started,” said former goalie Brent Savard. “I hope that the team can continue to do well and one day win the NCRHA championship.”

During the season, the team practices twice a week while missing one common facet of nearly all sports – a coach. The team is self-governed by the president and the other team captains. The entire organization is built by student athletes.”In roller hockey, we don’t have a coach to tell us how to play,” said 2007 points-leader Steven Regan. “If you show up to practice and put in effort, you have a spot on this team. Everyone gets a chance to play throughout the season.”

Roller hockey isn’t simply ice hockey without the ice. There are many differences that separate the sports and make them their own entities. Roller hockey is four-on-four as opposed to five-on-five in ice hockey. This makes for a very fast-paced game with more scoring. The rink is also spread out more so collisions and checking aren’t as prevalent.

Instead of the 22-man roster, roller hockey usually comes to tournaments with 12, giving athletes more of an opportunity to play. This is one of the main reasons that ice hockey players convert to roller hockey – they get in more playing time and don’t have to deal with the pressure of a coach on their backs.Roller hockey is a free club sport. The team has recruited enough sponsors that they can pay for all equipment and travel needed to support them for an entire season. Conversely, the ice hockey team requires a $600 fee.

Last season was one of rebuilding for the Bulls, as they lost three offensive scorers from the year before. They finished sixth out of nine in their division with an 8-8 record. The team did have some bright moments, however, defeating three teams in the top six of the nation: Florida International University (3), University of Florida (6) and North Carolina State (5).  The Bulls made it to regionals and finished fourth, but did not make the national tournament.

To stay in shape, most of the players separate in the off-season and play in other recreational leagues throughout Florida. Time is also devoted to gaining sponsorship to better equip the team during its season. USF will be hosting an Iron Man tournament in September as a fundraiser for the team. It will be open to all skill levels.