Last spring, a group of UC Santa Cruz students walked, biked and drove around campus stapling flyers to bulletin boards. Some were friends, some were roommates, some acquaintances, but they all had one thing in common — they wanted to bring ice hockey to UCSC.
Half a year later, Jared Penner grabs his sticks and his pads every Sunday and drives an hour north to Redwood City for practice. Penner and the team leave late Sunday night and often don’t get back to Santa Cruz until 2 or 3 a.m. Though it is a far trek for the slugs, this is home for the new hockey team.
“We have a real team, which is more than I could have asked for last year,” said team captain and third-year Penner. “We came together and decided we wanted to make it happen and it did.”
Today, the UCSC Hockey Club consists of 18 players and is officially competing in the Pacific Collegiate Hockey Conference of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). But the team accomplished this feat without the support of the school or the administration. The UCSC hockey team, established in spring 2016, receives no funding from the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) and is not an official club on campus.
In the midst of a projected $600,000 OPERS deficit, the programs director of athletics and the head of maintenance were recently laid off. Because of the decrease in funds, the athletics department is not looking to add new club sports to their roster since funds are already spread thin amongst the long-established clubs.
“UCSC has 18,000 students and 41 sports clubs. Having this many clubs has a strain on shared facilities, staffing, and budgets,” said OPERS executive director Andrea Willis in an email. “There is no capacity to increase the number of recognized clubs.”
For the hockey players, this means all of the money for league fees, ice time and equipment come out of pocket. Players pay a $1,200 fee per year — $400 per quarter — to the team to cover these costs and purchase all of their own equipment, jerseys sticks and pads which can range between $500 to $1,000.
“It’s a huge monetary commitment for the team,” said right-wing forward and fourth-year student Brian Vallelunga. “I know most people are struggling to make do.”
Because of these fees, finding players was and continues to be difficult. Many of the ones who currently play have to work to pay off these costs, but the players remain optimistic.
“It’s a constant challenge, both physically and mentally, when you have to wake up early the nest morning for your 8 a.m. classes,” Vellelunga said. “But its completely worth doing.”
Redwood City is the closest competitive ice rink to UCSC. Since it is so far, two of three weekly practices are held off the ice, consisting of workouts, stickhandling and conditioning. Their weekly on-ice practice is held Sunday from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. after the rink’s public business hours.
Student players administrate these facility contracts. The head coach himself is a fourth-year student, and all the fundraising is done by the players.
The team hopes to continue training to become a competitive club team. Team captain Jared Penner said they will continue to pursue avenues like petitioning the school to make it an official club sport on campus to allow for more players to be able to play with smaller team fees.
“I personally am hoping we have a consistent team that’s going to survive a long time,” Penner said. “We hope to create a place at school for people to play if they want to.”