Bumped. Let's all take a minute to get behind our men's club hockey team. -BN Eds.
While most Bruin fans are getting rightfully excited about what looks to be a strong football recruiting class, my thoughts this week are with another UCLA team – the club ice hockey program. On Saturday, the Bruins are set to face USC in the deciding Game Five of their annual Crosstown Cup series.
However, the game may not happen, as the team is currently suspended by UCLA Club Sports. The reason for the suspension? The team failed to file the appropriate travel paperwork for its January 7 home game against Cal State Fullerton. The team is currently appealing the suspension, and a decision will be reached tomorrow at 5:30 at a hearing in front of the Club Sports Executive Council (for which I’ve included contact info after the jump).
This season, the Bruins have the chance to accomplish something that has never been done in the history of the program – winning the Cup twice in three years. USC's hockey program has historically been very strong, and getting UCLA's program to the point where we can compete with USC year in and year out is no small feat, considering our smaller recruiting and financial base. It would be a serious blow to the program to have to forfeit this game, and consequently, the Crosstown Cup. Worse, it would be an embarrassment to UCLA that we weren't given the chance to fight for the Cup.
I understand the need to face the consequences for violating rules. However, taking this game away – a game that could be the crown jewel of the Bruins’ season – is a punishment far more severe than a paperwork error deserves. These players put their blood, sweat, tears, and yes, plenty of their own money into representing our University on the ice.
You may be asking, why is travel paperwork necessary for a home game? The answer is that since UCLA has no on-campus ice facility, UCLA’s home ice, and practice rink, is located in Panorama City, a 16-mile drive from campus. Each team member is obviously aware of this, and has acknowledged the risk of leaving campus for practices and games during the entire season. Team members sign a release for all practices at the beginning of the season, yet each home game requires another approval.
Club Sports considers "[T]raveling to any off-campus location without prior approval" a Major II violation, the most severe level of infraction, which carries a minimum sanction of a fine (no small burden in itself, considering the team is almost entirely self-supported) and a maximum sanction of loss of club status.
The sanction actually given, a suspension, is set based on the policy infraction itself. Club Sports states that a "typical one-week suspension would include the cancellation of all club meetings, practices, home events, events hosted by the club off-campus and travel arrangements." But all events have not been canceled; the team’s Friday night game against LMU is still on as scheduled. It seems as though Club Sports has singled out the USC game, for reasons I can’t comprehend.
I played on the Bruin hockey team. I can sympathize with the current players. Winning the Crosstown Cup is at the top of the team's list of goals every season, perhaps even above winning a Pac-8 title. It was the highlight of my three years as a UCLA hockey player when we accomplished it in 2005; it was the lowlight of my time at UCLA when we had to forfeit it in 2006 due to one of our three wins being overturned because of an ineligible player. I was the team president in 2007 and I know that it can be difficult to comply with every requirement of the ACHA (collegiate club hockey’s governing body), the Pac-8, and most of all, UCLA Recreation and Club Sports.
In the last few years, UCLA hockey is doing very well, both on the ice and off. I've been extremely impressed with the leadership I have seen from the current team. They have a new coach and a new website, and they are doing the right things to engage with their fans and improve all aspects of the program. Watching the team lift the Cup in 2010 for the first time since my squad did it five years earlier was a moment of pure elation for the entire program.
I’ve seen the fans and alumni of this program more excited over this team than I’ve ever seen them since I joined the program almost eight years ago. At the beginning of the season, 8-claps rang out through the Staples Center at midnight as we watched our Bruins win a last-minute thriller against USC following a Kings game. This game can be the pinnacle of the season. Some fans and alumni are coming down from Northern California – one I know of is even coming from the East Coast – for the chance to see another blue plaque on that Cup.
While I don’t often sympathize with Trojans, this is entirely unfair to their team as well. They had planned their Senior Night for this game and will lose a great deal of ticket revenue. Moreover, their players don’t want to win the Crosstown Cup on a technicality – just like the Bruins, they know it should be settled on the ice.
Club hockey players are full-time students, given little to no leeway from classes and exams for the sport they love. Still, they drive over an hour round-trip to practice and play home games alone, no matter how late the hours may be. They must balance this with fundraising, because ice time is expensive, and they must comply with every rule to the letter – even one that requires them to get approval to play in each and every one of their home games. It’s a challenge to do it all, and to do it all well. Sometimes the necessary papers don’t get filed in time, but an infraction on this level should not rob these players of the opportunity they’ve worked so hard to earn.
I encourage each of you to write to the Club Sports Executive Council at firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as to Club Sports Program Director Jason Zeck at email@example.com, prior to the team’s hearing tomorrow evening. Let them know UCLA should stand behind all of its athletes, varsity and club, who wear the Four Letters.
The UCLA ice hockey team deserves to be treated fairly by the University it works so hard to represent well.