Mornings start early for the Fresno State club hockey team. The team takes to the ice at the Gateway Ice Center at 6 a.m. to begin practice.
Formed in 1991, the team is a staple for Fresno area kids who have grown up playing hockey.
Junior defenseman and club treasurer Vinnie Smith was one of those kids who grew up with the team.
“I always knew about the team,” Smith said. “I’ve always played hockey, and I grew up in Fresno.”
Fresno State club hockey is a member of the Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association (PCHA). Its league competitors include UC Davis, Sacramento State, Santa Rosa Junior College and Santa Clara University.
It has been a rough season for the Bulldogs so far. Their record this year is 3-13. Senior defenseman and club president Travis Bybee said the team’s down season due to a small roster.
“Season’s been pretty slow,” Bybee said. “We’ve had low numbers this year. This is the smallest team we’ve had in the five years I’ve been here, but we’ve managed to push through and finish off the season.”
It hasn’t all been bad. Bybee said the defense has been a bright spot.
“For the entire year, our defense has been real strong,” he said. “We just haven’t been able to put pucks in the net, partially because of low numbers. We just don’t have the numbers to keep going down and back.”
Heading into its final game on Saturday against nonconference opponent Nevada, the team is focused on its Senior Day.
“This is one of the first senior days we’ve kind of planned out with the team,” Bybee said. “We’ve never really done anything officially, so we’re kind of working things out. That’s the plan for Saturday.”
The Bulldogs have a senior-laden roster and will lose 13 players at the end of the season.
“We’re going to be losing quite a bit of our team to graduation this year,” Smith said, “so we’re really hoping that we can get some more guys to come out next year – maybe some guys who haven’t played hockey before.”
Recruiting has been a major issue for the team. Since it is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, recruiting is a whole different process.
“The school is actually a big setback we have, because we have to get kids into school in October and November,” Bybee said. “We don’t have a set recruiting process yet. We have a flier online, and they fill it out and submit it and we call them and contact anyone. Other than that, it’s just going down south to the L.A. area or to the North, San Jose area. …places where there’s a big population of kids who play hockey, since it’s not a big market in Fresno.”
The team closes out its season on Saturday against Nevada at 4:15 p.m. at the Gateway Ice Center. Admission is $5 and all the proceeds will go toward the Children’s Hospital Adaptive Sports Hockey & Skating program, which seeks to provide both kids and adults with physical and mental disabilities the chance to learn hockey and have the chance to compete. T-shirts, hats and concessions will also be on sale, with all proceeds benefiting CHAS Hockey & Skating.