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Amy’s Angle: It’s time for the Bruins to dream big with a Division I hockey program

An AI-generated image of Pauley Pavilion as an ice rink is pictured. With the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten, the growth of hockey in California and the precedent already set, it’s prime time for the transition to a Division I hockey team to come to Westwood. (Playground AI image generated by Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)

By Amelie Ionescu

May 11, 2023 5:50 p.m.

The stage is set for UCLA Athletics to embark upon an uncharted path.

A Division I hockey program.

All the pieces have aligned for it to happen. A move to the Big Ten – a conference with an existing hockey league. A precedent for the leap set less than a decade ago. A jump onto the bandwagon of one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation.

Hockey has shaped itself into a fan-favorite endeavor throughout the state. Just a few years ago, California touted roughly 10 peewee AA teams. There are around 60 today.

On the flip side, NHL programs have expanded. After nearly 30 years of only the Los Angeles Kings representing the West Coast in the professional hockey scene, the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks spawned within two years of each other in the early 1990s.

Only one realm remains unexplored in the form of California ice hockey – and UCLA should pioneer it.

(Daily Bruin file photo)
The UCLA club hockey team gathers. Arizona State’s club team transitioned to a varsity squad in 2016. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Collegiate Division I hockey on the West Coast is an untapped market just fishing for a start. And what better birthplace than LA? What better team than the No. 1 public university’s? What better time than now?

Although UCLA’s move to the Big Ten throws question marks in the direction of every other sport, it only pushes the argument for a varsity hockey team. Switching into a conference with established hockey programs bodes well for UCLA, which would have struggled to find competition while in the Pac-12.

Arizona State proves the perfect precedent.

The Sun Devils transitioned in 2016 from a club team to a varsity sport, wherein a $32 million pledge catalyzed their Division I status. Playing a hybrid year to start off, Arizona State split its 2015-2016 season between the American Collegiate Hockey Association and the NCAA in order to shape itself into a competitive Division I team.

By 2016-2017, Arizona State’s men’s ice hockey team was officially varsity. Just two years later, Arizona State received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, and, since then, it has become an established program.

(Jenny Xu/Daily Bruin)
Senior forward Duke Fishman competes in a face-off. Fishman led the Bruins to back-to-back stellar seasons from 2021 through 2023. (Jenny Xu/Daily Bruin)

UCLA club hockey has been recently growing in reputation, posting back-to-back finishes on the national stage and gathering large crowds of fans. Most recently, the team made it past the first round of regionals after posting its best record in years the season before.

[Related: UCLA ice hockey gains traction as team skates way to success]

So where can the Bruins’ push come from?

Alumnus and namesake of the School of Engineering, Henry Samueli, owns the Anaheim Ducks and has proven a devout supporter of professional and high school hockey. His help would prove integral to making hockey at UCLA happen.

And with the question of money answered, the rest of the pieces fall into the puzzle perfectly.

If UCLA touts the sole collegiate Division I program in the state, top California-grown players won’t have to travel thousands of miles to play their sport. Recruiting students from local leagues and clubs that want to stay close to home will prove beneficial, given that the top-four teams in the nation all have at least one player from California on their roster.

Title IX states that men’s and women’s sports should have equal opportunities for resources and levels of participation as well as have a number of scholarships proportional to participation among student-athletes. While adding a men’s team would skew the current statistics, moving up women’s lacrosse to the varsity level could prove a doable endeavor to balance the scales and bolster a women’s sport in the process.

[Related: Sam Settles It: Title IX is just the first step toward gender equality in sports]

An eventual renovation of Pauley Pavilion to house a rink could come after a few years spent at a rink off campus establishing the program and shaping it into a student pastime – perhaps at the nearby Anaheim Ducks-owned Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena.

There’s no better time to start than now. There’s no better place than here. Division I hockey will be the next big thing in Westwood.

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Amelie Ionescu | Sports senior staff
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
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