Hockey Pucks and Roller Skates

Courtesy of Rachel Heng

Courtesy of Rachel Heng

UCI has always had its hidden quirks. Most of which can be found walking around Ring Road or the Anteater Involvement Fair, marketing themselves to the bypassers trying to avoid eye contact with anyone at all costs. In a Southern California school where it is virtually always summertime, roller hockey seems like an especially odd activity to find. When informed that we have a roller hockey team, most people on campus respond with, “We do?”

About a month ago, the club’s Division 2 team faced UC Santa Cruz in the championship match of regionals for the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League. The score was 5-5 in the third period, forcing the game into overtime. The tension was short-lived due to the winning goal being scored by Andy Trinh within the first minute. They were going to be one of four teams within their division to go to Nationals, held in the exotic state of Missouri this year. The energy on the rink was infectious, and a part of me wanted to see how far this team could go. Two weeks later, I booked a flight out to Missouri with them.

We touched down in Kansas City around 2 p.m. in the afternoon. As Californians who were largely unaware of the weather outside of our own state, we were prepared for the 60-degree weather as advertised on the Internet. The eleven of us ended up out on the curbside of the terminal, peeling off whatever clothing we could spare to save ourselves from the 80 degree humidity that was slowly suffocating us. After their late practice that night, we went to Hooters for dinner because it was the only thing open. At least that’s what they told me.

Nationals began the next morning with an early start. The smell of sweaty hockey gear welcomed everyone stepping into the Independence Events Center. It straight assaulted whoever entered the locker rooms. As the stench faded away, I began to focus on the camaraderie of the team — a medley of game strategies and fart jokes. I tried to find a suitable place on the ceiling to stare at as the men around me changed.

The next three days would be round robin games that would determine the team’s position in the elimination bracket. Coach David Gimbi reined the team in to finalize some details about the plays, telling the team to give it their all and to “leave it all out there on the rink.” A momentous 10-2 win was met with two subsequent losses. The resulting change in the locker room atmosphere was palpable. They knew if they didn’t win the next couple of games, the Anteaters were going home.

Saturday morning signaled the start of the elimination rounds. The fart jokes and strategy conversation were still there, but a more focused atmosphere blanketed the locker room that morning. The first game of the day began with an early lead for UCI against Stony Brook. The third period ended with a score of 4-4. A top shelf goal from Devon Tallcott ended the overtime period. 5-4: the Anteaters would stay for at least one more game.

Later that day, UCI went up against Arkansas. Using the momentum from the day’s earlier game, the first period went off to a good start. Nick Mamich launched the puck into the right hand goal post, securing the first goal which was followed closely by a second goal scored by John Gerrard and a third from Tallcott. However, Arkansas quickly caught up in the second after a series of frustratingly incompetent calls from the referees, and by the end of the second, the score was 3-3. Panic set in, and the penalties from both sides came flooding in. Capitalizing on a bad pass from Arkansas, Gerrard walked the puck in, faked a shot to the right and utterly destroyed the goalie with a clean shot to the back of the net. The Anteaters pulled ahead 4-3. It was Arkansas’ turn to panic, pulling their goalie in the last minute for an extra man on the rink. Gerrard earned a hat trick on the empty net, solidifying the final score at 5-3. The clock ran down. Anteaters won. They would continue on to the next round of games. Back in the locker room, all their faces were beaming. All the fart jokes were made.

What makes this team special beyond their miraculous third period comebacks is their endearing personalities that draw people to them. There were many instances of this during the week. They would go around to other teams and chat them up, and players from other teams would come up to them to pat them on the back after games. They even charmed the rink staff into becoming closet fans. Frank, the main locker attendant, came to the locker room after the Arkansas game to tell them how he sat in the stands trying to quietly cheer for us. At one point, someone had asked me why I wanted to come out all the way here to watch hockey. I didn’t follow them to this (hellishly boring) state to watch hockey. I came out specifically to watch them play it. People are drawn to them, but more importantly they are drawn together by a bond solidified by this sport, their sweat and their flatulence, and it’s incredible to watch. If you like hockey, go watch them. If you don’t like hockey, go watch them anyway.