UCSB students bring ice hockey to IV

The UCSB ice hockey team is in its first year and will be bringing a bus-load of fans free of charge to their Saturday, January 22 home game in Oxnard. The Gauchos play their first game of 2011 this Saturday against Cal St. Northridge.

UCSB has many things to offer a young perspective student. Alongside a stalwart education, any Gaucho has the opportunity to live near the beach, enjoy mostly beautiful weather, learn to surf, and participate in awesome club sports such as lacrosse, ultimate Frisbee, water polo, and ice hockey.

Ice Hockey?!? Indeed, UCSB is in the midst of its inaugural ice hockey season as the Gauchos’club team is looking to make the ice-based sport a hot item in Isla Vista.

The hockey team already filled a bus with fans for a November game and the Gauchos delivered a hard-hitting, entertaining show.

After bringing 300-400 fans to Oxnard for a game in November, the team plans to do it again for its Saturday, January 22 game vs. Northern Arizona. The whole thing is free for spectators, just be sure to show up a few minutes before 5 p.m. at Embarcadero Hall in Isla Vista to hop on a free shuttle for the 6 p.m. game.

This after the team didn’t exist a year ago.

It’s March 6th, 2010, at the WCRHL Regional Championship Tournament in Corona, CA. The UCSB B Gold club roller hockey team just had its hopes of being regional champions destroyed in a crushing overtime loss to Arizona State.

Sophomores Jake Wiskel and Matt Snyder, raised as ice hockey players, had two seasons of club roller hockey under their belts, but the sour loss had left both players wanting to get back on the ice. Before long, they learned that there were many other guys who desired a return to their roots.


“I played ice hockey all my life,” said Wiskel. “I was interested in playing (at Santa Barbara), but the only option was Roller Hockey. There were a bunch of guys in my situation that played ice hockey as a kid but didn’t really have anywhere to play. After we lost, we both decided that we would rather play ice hockey.”

The transition started immediately. On the trip back to Santa Barbara, Matt and Jake researched leagues, locations, and governing bodies for collegiate ice hockey. The first person they contacted was the PCHA the vice president, Cary Adams, who broke down the process of first creating a club team, and then how to accepted by the league.

“We were slightly worried that we wouldn’t have enough guys, so we put some signs around campus and we got a lot of interest,” said Wiskel. “We received 40-50 emails from people interested in joining the team, ranging from grad students who had never played and were looking to have some fun to guys that had played their entire lives.”

Before long the two assembled their team, and were accepted unanimously into the league.

Shortly after, the other schools in the league would realize that the UCSB squad was a force to be reckoned with. Despite losing their first game to Santa Clara, the Guachos jumped out to a 2-1 record and whispers of curiosity could be heard throughout the student body. All that UCSB Ice Hockey was missing was the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd.

“We wanted to be a legitimate, successful team,” said Wiskel. “The product on the ice is entertaining, and its high-level hockey. This is the most competitive league I’ve seen yet.”

UCSB was finally scheduled its first “home” game on November 5th, to be played at the closest available ice rink, which happened to be in Oxnard.

“We were playing Sacramento State,” Wiskel recalls. “We got a couple articles in the Nexus, made a Facebook group, and kind of stirred up publicity around campus. I chartered some buses for the ride down, and we filled them all up. Apparently there were people on the street in I.V. fighting to get on, but the buses were too full. It ended up being around 300 to 400 heads.”

While a crowd of three to four hundred people may seem small for a college sport, especially in comparison to UCSB record breaking season attendance for men’s soccer, it’s important to note that this is about the same draw that the Men’s Division 1 baseball team brings in. Not bad for a club team’s “home-away-from-home” game.

UCSB unfortunately fell 9-6 in front of the loyal Gaucho following, but the play on the ice left the crowd wanting more. What they were able to witness was a completely different hockey experience than what would have been watched at a roller hockey match. In roller hockey, crowd pleasers such as checking are against the rules.

“We come out more aggressive than most, just because we were out of ice hockey for so long,” said Wiskel. “The novelty that we could actually hit guys again was really fun. That’s while we lost our first game, against Santa Clara. It was the first ice game anyone had played in three years, and everybody just went out there and smashed people, instead of paying attention to defense or offense or even the puck. We got a little aggression out of the system.”

The Gauchos call Oxnard home for now, but support the Ice in Paradise efforts for the chance to play close to home.

Talk about giving the crowd what they want to see. In the span of a half-year, Wiskel and Snyder took an idea and transformed it into a competitive, exciting program that will no doubt prosper with the proper support. While the travel to games is a definite drawback, there is still hope. Plans are underway to secure an ice rink near I.V. in a location adjacent to Girsh Park.

The project is still a few million dollars short of necessary funds, but the future still looks bright for “Ice in Paradise”, the proposed name for the complex.

“If this rink gets built, I feel like it would become a pretty big spectator sport,” said Wiskel. “A five minute bus ride is much more appealing than a 40 minute bus ride.”

Until then, Wiskel and Co. will still be playing their home games in Oxnard, but he does not see this as necessarily a bad thing. Plans are in place to secure multiple buses to charter down fans to this weekend’s matchup with Cal State Northridge.

As for the rest of the season, Wiskel likes his team’s chances.

“We’re going to do well. I only see three teams that are above us, and even that we have a chance to be them, since we have played all of them already. We’re going to be putting up a lot of wins, and I expect us to make the playoffs.”