In its first season ever, the Cal State Fullerton roller hockey team has gone undefeated and will compete for a national championship in Fort Myers, Fla. But that’s hardly the story.
After transferring last spring to CSUF from West Valley Junior College in Saratoga, Calif., Jeff Brown just wanted to play. But his new school didn’t have a team, and having just moved into the dorms, he didn’t know any skaters either.
Brown started by posting fliers at the Rinks Irvine Inline to see if he could draw any interest in putting a group together. Tristan Gonzalez, a CSUF senior and rink employee, was one of the men who responded.
“Me and a couple of the guys here tried to start it four years ago, so we were really interested,” said Gonzalez, who is an alternate captain.
Brown took aboard the first dozen players to contact him and proceeded with his next step—getting the team approved by the school. CSUF-recognized teams must be a part of the SCICC (Sports Club Inter-Club Council), which is the governing body for all sports clubs. It includes weekly Friday meetings, which last three-and-a-half hours, and ask for event donations, fundraising help and mandatory philanthropy events.
“It takes a ton of work trying to successfully run and manage a team, and fulfill all the requests the SCICC asks,” said Brown. “I don’t mind doing it, as my main goal is to build a program that is built to last here at CSUF.”
Once permission was granted, Brown completed his roster.
“We didn’t get a goalie until the last minute,” said Gonzalez. “We picked up one of the backups from the ice team. We had Tyler (Svoboda), our coach, come in late, so we didn’t have a coach. We were just kinda skating around, having some fun.”
The team recruited Alex Miller, who played for the ice hockey team, as its goalie.
“Tyler Hainey, who plays on the ice team with me and also plays on this team, was begging me to come out,” said Miller, 23, who is majoring in public administration management. “I played varsity roller hockey in high school—and it was fun, I just never really stuck with it. I was more of an ice guy. (Hainey) said, ‘if you don’t come out we’re not going to have a team.’ … Seeing as it’s my last year, I figured, well, why not give a run at it? And now we’re playing for a national title.”
With Brown as the Titan captain, a full roster and school approval, all that remained was to find a coach who didn’t mind working for free. Tyler Svoboda would be the man for the job—his last name translates to “free” in Czech.
“That guy jumped through hoops like I’ve never seen a college kid do in my life,” said Svoboda. “I’m so impressed. When I saw a guy was that committed, I was like, ‘screw it, we’ll do this.’”
Svoboda’s effect was quickly visible; many of his players had never had formal instruction before his arrival.
“There are so many guys on this team that have talents they don’t even understand that they have, and they don’t even know, because they’ve never been coached,” Svoboda said.
The Titans embarked on a 16-game season as part of the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL), competing against teams from USC, University of Arizona and CSU Northridge, among others. CSUF won its first 14 before settling for a tie against UC Irvine.
“We were kind of shocked we won all four or five games we started off with, and from there we never looked back,” Gonzalez said.
“We just wanted to have fun,” Miller said. “Once we realized we could start winning, that was part of the fun, and we kind of settled down and looked to the long run and saw that we could do something with this … at this point it’s all or nothing. If we don’t come back with a national championship, it’s a disappointment.”
CSUF completed the regular season with a 15-0-1 record, earning 31 of 32 possible points and finishing first in their eight-team division. The Titans outscored their opponents 112-43. Brown led the team with 30 goals in 15 games played.
“When he wants to do something out there, he just does it,” said Miller of Brown. “I can’t put it into words, but the determination and the grit—he just makes it happen. He puts the team on his back when he has to, and that’s been the reason we’ve been so successful this year. Not to say he does it all, but when we need something clutch to happen, he’s there.”
After winning their first four postseason games, the Titans will fly to Florida on Tuesday before kicking off the championship tournament on Wednesday. CSUF will be in one of five four-team pools, competing against Miami (Ohio) University on Wednesday, State University of New York at Cortland on Thursday, and University of North Carolina, Charlotte on Friday. All games will be broadcast live on UstreamTV.
“I expect us to win this thing,” said Svoboda. “I don’t go to any tournament if I don’t think I’m gonna win … I think we’re gonna come home with a cup for Cal State Fullerton.”
Half the team is graduating following the season, which could bring some uncertainty into next season. A new captain and goaltender will be needed, but Svoboda very well may stick around.
“If those guys want to play, I’ll be happy to coach them,” Svoboda said. “I’ll stay around as long as there’s a program and they want me. I’m there.”
For more information about Titan roller hockey, visit Facebook.com/CSUFRollerHockey.