Culbreath: UT hockey team heads to championship tournamentWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Compared to football or baseball, hockey has relatively few fans. Compared to college football, college hockey’s fanbase is dang near miniscule. In this region, though, it does have its followers: Ohio State, University of Michigan, Michigan State and Bowling Green State University all have fantastic NCAA Division I programs that have seen players move on to the upper echelons of the sport. Those teams are gearing up for the final CCHA tournament, and we’ll hopefully see some of them at the Huntington Center at the Midwest Regionals of the NCAA Tournament on March 30 and 31.
Lost in all of that, though, is a scrappy team that plays in a public rink on Alexis Road that wears the midnight blue and gold. They may not be an NCAA team, but they’re starting to see success at their level.
The University of Toledo hockey team is not so much an official team as it is a student organization, but its history goes all the way back to 1965. It currently plays in the Tri-State Collegiate Hockey League (TSCHL), a Division II conference in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) (think the NAIA, but for hockey). Their history includes successes both past and present: an ACHA Division II National Championship in 1992, and league titles in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Last year, the Rockets blazed through the TSCHL tournament to win the league championship. This year, the Rockets shared the regular-season title with Dayton and head into the March 1-3 TSCHL Tournament as one of the top seeds, hoping to defend their title. The Rockets also had qualified for the ACHA Regional tournament, but lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to Virginia Tech in overtime.
Much of the team’s organization is built from within. Head Coach Matt Bollinger is a former player for the team. General Manager Greg Urig also spent four years on the ice for the Rockets before lending his services to building the program. According to Urig, the team would come and go based on whether or not there were enough people interested to actually field a team. Now, the structure is in place where the team is actually recruiting.
“It’s a matter of telling these kids that the level of play they’ll see here is about on the same level as they’d see in a Division III team in the NCAA,” Urig told me. “It’s still a collegiate level of hockey.”
I also talked to Mark Born, the father of Zack Born, one of the team’s offensive leaders. Mark was the one who originally reached out to Toledo Free Press, because he’s excited about the success the team has seen in recent years. “These are good kids, and this is good hockey that Toledo needs to see.”
It’s a little late in the year to take in the team now. They play their regular season games at the Team Toledo Ice House, but the regular season is already in the books. This weekend’s tournament will be held in North Canton, so if you’re up for a road trip, then hurry up; Toledo plays at 6:30 p.m. on March 2, and the Championship game is March 3 at 1:30 p.m.
Barring the roadie, you’re going to want to keep an eye out for this squad. Qualifying for the ACHA regional tournament was a Big Friggin’ Deal for this team, validating last year’s title and this year’s regular season championship. And spread the word: There are big-time prep hockey programs around here, and if a kid isn’t going to play for one of the big boys on the collegiate level, it doesn’t mean they still can’t play.
Matt “Shaggy” Culbreath is sports director at 1370 WSPD. Email him at email@example.com.