Club roller hockey team focuses on playoffs

A Carnegie Mellon player maneuvers the puck away from a La Roche College defender during a game at the Island Sports Center. (credit: Courtesy of Daryl Hollinger) A Carnegie Mellon player maneuvers the puck away from a La Roche College defender during a game at the Island Sports Center. (credit: Courtesy of Daryl Hollinger)

Carnegie Mellon’s club roller hockey team has rolled off to a phenomenal season, currently standing at an undefeated 14–0 in the Western Pennsylvania Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WPACRHL).

The Tartans have faced off against Geneva College, Duquesne University, Slippery Rock University, Penn State Beaver, Clarion University, and the Community College of Allegheny County South in the Tier 3 division of the WPACHRL. In their 14 wins, they have scored 100 goals while only allowing 36, and the team leads the league in nearly every category.

Master’s student Ben Walfish currently leads the league in goals and assists, scoring 29 points throughout the season to become the league’s No. 1-ranked player. Junior Zach Hissam follows closely as second in goals and third in assists, ranking third overall.

“Having guys like Walfish and Zach on the team is invaluable. They’re both incredibly talented players, but they also are great leaders,” said Ph.D. student Sam Ventura. “They take it upon themselves to instruct the younger players at practice, and they help everyone become better players.”

The season started in mid-October, with all games held at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center. Months of hard work have paid off, as the team entered the playoff rounds last week, winning its first playoff game against Geneva College 10–1 on April 4.

“We want to go as far into the playoffs as possible and try to win as many games as possible,” said Ph.D. student Jason Fox, the club’s president. “We want to finish in first place.”

Founded in 2000, the club team has grown significantly in recent years. “The team has both highly competitive and recreational players,” Fox said. “Although some players play a bigger role in games, everyone gets opportunities to play and learn the game.” The team has grown to a diverse membership of both men and women that includes undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty and staff members.

“We now have so many players that are both fun-loving and dedicated to the sport,” Fox said.

Fox said that although many people have played some form of hockey in the past, others — including himself — are simply attracted to “the fast-paced game.”

The dedication of the team is strongly evident, with several players currently competing with injuries. “One game, our senior defenseman Aneesh Bhoopathy took a stick to the face that split his nose open. He was bleeding everywhere; it was pretty ugly,” Ventura said. “But he just got it closed up, came back to the bench, and finished the game to make sure we got the win. That kind of dedication inspires the rest of the team to give everything they have on every shift.”

“Aside from that, defenseman Mike McCord has been playing through a shoulder injury all season, goalie Kevin Liebler played through a knee injury, and forward Eric Smith has been playing with osteoporosis,” Ventura said.

Last year, the Tartans only lost one game after being moved to a higher skill-level tier in the league; however, the team lost in the semifinal round of the playoffs. In the 2010–11 season, the team only lost one regular season game and finished in second place.

“We are very hungry to win the championship game,” Fox said. “It has been something that has eluded us for a few years.”

“This season, our sole goal is to win a championship,” Ventura added. “Anything less than that would be a failure.”

For now, the Tartans continue to focus intensely on the upcoming game against Duquesne on Wednesday at 10:30 p.m.

“We’re not thinking about anything beyond our semifinal game with Duquesne on Wednesday. This entire season, we’ve just been playing one game at a time. It’s worked so far. Hopefully it works again on Wednesday,” Ventura said.

Looking beyond this week’s game, Walfish hoped that the club’s success would encourage increased membership, even to the point of being able to field multiple teams.

“Ultimately, I hope that winning the championship will secure the team’s viability going forward so that I can comfortably leave it in the hands of the future leaders of the team. I cannot retire until that happens,” he said.