Qualifying for the National tournament in any capacity is a life-changing event that people, especially people in the sports world, dream about from the time they are children until they are actually playing in those games themselves.
Most universities will do everything they can to get these teams wherever they need to be for the tournament; Fargo, North Dakota, in this case, but the Slippery Rock men’s inline club hockey team was left to fend for themselves after the University was able to assist the team with $2,700, still well short of what they needed.
“We did a GoFundMe page and we did a tournament. We raised almost 4,000 dollars. We made it work somehow,” First-year team president Nicholas Smith said.
The inline team sent a team to represent the Division 1 level and the Division 3 level at the 20th National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association National Championship in Fargo (ND.)
“The trip [to Fargo] was a 17-and-a-half-hour car drive,” Smith said. “We had two 15-person vans, we had one coach drive his truck and one coach also got a vehicle to put all of our equipment in. Every team got to go, every player got to go.”
Originally, the team was not sure they would be able to raise enough money to make the voyage to Fargo and compete, but with selfless support from everyone involved with the team, the players were able to make it to Fargo.
“We had a lot of coaches and parents try to help us out the best they could. We figured everything out,” Smith said.
With matchups against teams like Florida Gulf Coast, UC Santa Barbara and Massachusetts in the D1 level and tilts against Grand Valley State, Bethel and Cal Poly at the D3 level, the tournament provided The Rock a chance to show their skill against nationally recognized programs.
The stage was not too big for The Rock either as both teams advanced deep into the tournament.
“The DI team made the Sweet 16 and the DIII team made the Elite 8,” Smith said with a proud smile.
After not even expecting to have the chance to travel to Fargo, Smith and the team relished the chance to soak in the full experience.
“This was my first time ever being at Nationals, so it was a great experience,” Smith said “It was only five minutes away from the hotel, so we could walk to the rink. It was cool playing teams we don’t always see. It was an awesome experience.”
Playing against other successful teams in the competition, enjoying the interaction with other inline hockey teams from around the United States and getting to immerse themselves in an atmosphere of a National tournament in a hockey town like Fargo was an experience that these players, coaches, and supporters of the team will never forget.
Following the success of The Rock this year, Smith already has a plan in effect to make sure a pinch like the one The Rock experienced this year would not happen again.
“Next year we already have league dues set in and we have tournaments we are going to do, and we have fundraisers that we’ve already talked about with some of the coaches,” Smith said.
With the future of the inline club hockey team here at The Rock in good hands with team president Smith, he also encourages those who are interested in hockey but not traveling to come down to Neville Island.
“It’s an awesome experience. We also have a club inline team in Neville Island,” Smith said. “There are normally two or three teams there so if you don’t want to play travel and you just want to play hockey, come on out and we’ll throw you on a team and you can enjoy yourself.”
At the end of the day, Smith was just appreciative that the inline team was able to make it to Fargo. “We did everything we could to try to get there,” Smith said, and he plans on making it back again next year.