“There’s a hockey team here?”
For members of the Claremont Centaurs, the hockey team of the Claremont Colleges, this question is all too common.
“Every time I mention that I’m going to hockey practice, people kind of look at me funny,” said Travis Beckman HM ’15, who plays defense for the Centaurs.
“The cool thing is that when they do find out we have a hockey team, they’re always like, ‘When are your games? Can we come and watch?’” Beckman added. “There’s a real untapped interest in hockey at the 5Cs, from both players and fans.”
Founded less than a decade ago by students at Harvey Mudd College, the co-ed Claremont Centaurs now include players and alumni from all 5Cs. Although most team members began their hockey careers on ice, the accessibility of roller hockey on the West Coast led the club’s founders to switch from ice to roller.
Roller hockey, also known as inline hockey, is similar to ice: It is played in a rink, and players wear full gear. The only differences are that players skate on wheels instead of blades, and games are played four-on-four instead of five-on-five. There is also no direct hitting in roller hockey, though games can still get pretty physical.
According to Rob Ventura PO ’15, a high-scoring forward who also leads the team in penalty minutes, the Centaurs practice once a week at a roller rink in West Covina, about 20 minutes west of campus, and compete in collegiate tournaments through the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL), a conference of the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA).
“We’re the top DIII team on the West Coast right now,” Ventura said. “Our goal is to move up to DII next season and face some tougher competition.”
Along with roller, Beckman said the team’s ice component is growing.
“We play once a week at the Ontario Center Ice Arena,” he said. “It’s just pick-up now, but we’re looking to maybe join a league next season.”
Last weekend, the Centaurs played in their first roller hockey tournament of the season, the WCRHL kick-off event in San Jose. With a short bench, the team met fellow DIII challenger Sonoma State University, DII heavyweights Arizona State University and the University of Arizona and perennial rival University of California, Davis.
The Centaurs had a solid showing, highlighted by a stone-cold performance from goaltender Nick Kinkade HM ’13 and a couple clutch late-game goals, including a one-timer from Ventura set up by a beautiful pass from first-year forward Michael Swift CM ’16 to tie the game against Arizona.
“We were down 5-4 in the third, and I saw Rob lining up at the point,” Swift said. “I sauced it over to him, and he just shelved it stick side.”
“It was pretty cool,” said Byron Cohen CM ’16, another first-year standout. “Mike’s pass was perfect. We were stoked.”
Next weekend, on Nov. 10, the Centaurs will play closer to home at Huntington Beach in their second collegiate tournament of the season, where they will face University of California, Santa Barbara, University of San Diego, University of Arizona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Beckman said he expects to have a deeper bench at Huntington, rooted in a strong first-year class.
“Right now we’ve got a ton of first-years, which is huge,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement.”
Outside of competition, Beckman said the Centaurs are working to build a broader hockey culture at the 5Cs.
“We’d like to get a shuttle for people to come see us at nearby tournaments,” he said. “Another idea we had was to host classic hockey movie nights or a floor hockey tournament.”
Ventura and Beckman also said the team has been constructing an on-campus rink on the site of Claremont McKenna College’s old tennis courts, which CMC gave the team the right to use after its new tennis facility was completed south of Sixth Street.
“We put a lot of time into it over the past couple years, and we were holding practices there for a while,” Ventura said. “But funding limitations and misuse of the courts by the colleges have made it difficult.”
Ventura said the team has worked on the on-campus rink under the direction of the team’s coach, HMC Professor Patrick Little, who is currently on sabbatical.
For now, the Centaurs are focused on playing and building the team, said Nick Choe PO ’14, a defenseman and the fastest skater on the team.
“It’s wicked fun,” Cohen added.