The Zamboni glided across the ice at the Valley Ice Center in Panorama City on a recent Monday night, preparing the surface for the UCLA ice hockey team to practice for its final games of the season.
First it was one player on the ice shooting at the goal before the rest of the team came onto the ice one by one. Some were practicing their forecheck, some their passing, others defensive zone positioning. Together, they were readying themselves to take on USC on Jan. 28-30 in the last series of the year.
For some students, it might come as surprise to learn UCLA has a club ice hockey team.Freshman center Peter Katz is often met with shock and intrigue when he tells his friends he plays for the team.
“Telling people that we have a hockey team is one of the more interesting parts (of being on the team), like their reaction to that is always really funny to see,” Katz said. “‘There’s a hockey team?’ That’s usually the most common (question). They ask where we play. They don’t even know LA has ice rinks.”
UCLA ice hockey has a large enough followingto get crowds of up to a thousand people, according to assistant coach Greg Simmonds. Crowds this large generally come out to the annual rivalry game that takes place in Staples Center, the same ice that greats like Wayne Gretzky played on and that the Los Angeles Kings currently call home.
Junior winger Jacob Muller saidthat playing on the same ice as the Kings and taking a win against USC was one of the highlights of the 2015-16 season. The win back in December did not count towards the rival school’s Crosstown Cup games, but it still held its own significance as an annual event for the Bruins.
“That win was something else – to win in front of our friends on such a big stage,” Muller said.
The Bruins were unable to take another win against the Trojans when it came to the Bruins’ final game in the Crosstown Cup. The Cup is awarded annually to the team that takes the best-of-five series.
The clock ticked toward zero on Jan. 30, signaling the inevitable 9-4 loss for the Bruins. They skated off the ice in defeat – the loss indicating the end of their season.
“It’s winning the little battles, making sure that we get everything done that we have to get done. It’s the little things that have been killing us this year,” Simmonds said. “We end up short just two or three minutes of a 60-minute game that we don’t play. That’s when we end up losing it.”
Though the team’s season officially ended, captain Nick Vossler was satisfiedwith the team’s growing popularity over the course of his four years here at UCLA.
While the coaching staff has remained consistent with Simmonds and head coach Mark Francis, the team has grown from when Vossler started and “could count the team on his fingers” to an active roster of 18 last year.
“This is my last year and I’ve seen everybody that I once knew on the team leave and now I’ve got this new group of guys and it’s been really fun to see them (grow),” Vossler said. “This is a new group this year and there’sbeen a lot of new faces in the last two years, especially. It’s super nice to see that the future of the program is in good hands and it’s definitely a point of pride of mine to see that the team’s thriving. We’re growing in popularity.”