On a 70-degree, late-November day, Ian Gallogly ’13 and Rob Ventura ’14 are sitting in the courtyard of the Smith Campus Center and talking hockey.
Scant prompting is needed to get them going: They both grew up in Massachusetts, in towns about 20 minutes apart, and they each were on the ice by age 2. Now, as Pomona students, they are working to drum up interest on campus for their Frostbelt fixation.
“Once you meet someone who appreciates hockey,” explains Ventura, a 6-foot-tall forward who led the Claremont Centaurs this season in goals, assists and penalty minutes. “It’s kind of like that instant connection.”
With California’s less-than-perfect hockey conditions, the New Englanders seem to have adopted a decidedly West Coast sense of verve. No ice, no problem. They play roller hockey, having found their way to as freshmen—and becoming key players for—the Centaurs, a Division III team that began in the mid-2000s at Harvey Mudd but now draws most players from neighboring Claremont Colleges.
The Centaurs pay to play at a commercial rink in West Covina, while the guys try to convert old tennis courts at Claremont McKenna into a workable roller rink. The team competes in the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League, where, this season, the Claremont crew won a single game and tied another in competition against larger schools such as Sonoma State and UC Davis.
Last year, the Claremont crew’s numbers dwindled, but this fall, the Centaurs drew in a larger crop of freshmen to bring their roster up to about a dozen. Weekly team dinners are part of the push to tout hockey culture in Claremont.
The challenge isn’t just promoting a northern obsession in a Sunbelt setting. As Ventura notes, they have to convince guys who grew up on the ice to try the roller version, which is four-on-four and offers less physical contact.
“Some people can be tough to convert,” says Ventura, who, truth be told, would rather be on ice as well. “It’s frustrating because … you feel you should be able to do something, turn this way, turn that way.”
Adds Gallogly, a defenseman: “On ice you can just … explode. It’s a quicker game.”
Still, the Easterners know that promoting hockey in Claremont will be a slowly won game, and one they have to get out and play, whether on wheels or blades. “It’s close enough,” says Ventura of the roller version.
“At the end of the day, it’s still hockey,” adds Gallogly. “Still wicked fun.”