EUGENE, Ore. — “Oregon hockey has a little bit of something for everyone,” said defenseman and team coordinator Matt Hanlon. “It’s got the speed, the hitting, and it also has some finesse–some romance to it.”
The Oregon Hockey Team is probably the most entertaining Ducks team you haven’t seen yet.
“It’s nonstop. We [change shifts] on the fly. It’s a physical game, and it’s very exciting,” said Oregon head coach Rich Salahor.
It’s a Division II team in the Western Region of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). With players from 20 cities in 11 states or provinces in two countries, the Ducks are currently second in the Pac-8 Conference. But because hockey is a club sport at Oregon, these Ducks are different than the ones that play in Autzen Stadium or Matt Knight Arena.
“The school doesn’t offer us as many privileges as they would a D-1 athlete. We have to balance education and sports on our own,” said forward and team marketing director Garrett Roberts.
“Life as a club athlete is a lot less glamorous [than that of a D-1 athlete]. We have a budget of about $80,000 per year. The school contributes about 20 percent of that. The rest is funded by students. Each [player] pays about $2,000 each year in order to fund all of our ice costs, all of our travel, and everything you see–all the equipment, the apparel,” said Hanlon.
The biggest hurdle facing the team is gaining more awareness from peers and the community.
“It’s hard to fill the arena, and it’s hard to reach out to students and be like ‘Hey, we have a hockey team,’ because not many people realize that we do,” said Hanlon.
“I’ll talk and promote to the best of my ability, and yet I’ll still talk to people every day who will say, ‘There’s an Oregon team?!'” said Roberts.
Players admit that there could be a stigma attached to the term “club sport,” and there’s frustration with the team being lost in Oregon’s blur.
“People think of [club sports] like a lower level. Like one step about intramural sports, where anybody can show up and play. Why can’t we fill our stands? Why can’t we get people to come watch our games when we’re so competitive,” asked Roberts, “We’re hard-hitting like the football team. We got speed like transition basketball.”
“Until you come and experience a game live, you really don’t understand how fast these boys are moving,” said Salahor, “and the speed at which they are hitting each other, and executing plays on the ice out there, and getting the puck from one another from tape to tape. It takes a great deal of skill.”
“When people go to [an Oregon] football game, people say ‘Oh, this game is so fast.’ But, if you just came out [to an Oregon hockey game], you’d see it’s actually a little bit faster. You can get up to 30 miles per hour on the ice,” said Hanlon.
Though the team is fighting difficulties with publicity and the logistics of drawing more fans to their games, these Ducks continue to fly together.
“We love to play hockey. It’s simple. Every time I talk about hockey, I get a smile on my face. It’s what we love to do, and when you love to do something, you’ll find a way to do it,” said Roberts.
“Quack, quack, quack. That’s kind of our motto. Just keep going,” said Hanlon.
The Oregon Hockey Team has its final homestand of the season this weekend, hosting Portland State on Friday and Saturday night.
You can find more information on the team, including how you can help them, go to www.oregonduckshockey.com.