Third time’s the charm

No need to rub your eyes, you don’t need to get them checked, you’re reading this right. Sam Houston State does have a club hockey team and yes, they’re quite good.

So good in fact that Wednesday the roller hockey squad from Huntsville travels to Colorado Springs to participate in the 2008 Collegiate Roller Hockey National Championships. This is the team’s second trip to the tournament since 2006.

“This year our team is built a lot better than when we went two years ago,” Senior captain Juddy Ferguson said. “We have 11 skaters and one goalie that have seven plus years of hockey experience. We’re going to do better in nationals, but it’s still going to be tough.”

To help get them to where they are, the team was aided by a former player and current coach, Derek Smith.

“[He] has helped us a lot and made us a better endurance team than what we were ever before,” Juddy said. “When we first played the University of Louisiana – Lafayette, one of the first games of the season, I think we got shut out 10-0 and the second time we played, when Derek came in and coached us, we went in and beat them 11-4 on their home court. We could see a dramatic change in our endurance level and the way we played as a team.”

The tournament, hosted by the NCRHA (National College Roller Hockey Association), begins Wednesday night for the No. 9 nationally-ranked Bearkats (17-3). Having finished second in the Southwestern Collegiate Hockey League, behind ULL in Division II play, the Bearkats first opponent in pool play is Elon University (15-5) from North Carolina.

“They are always a top contender, from what I remember they were a really fast-paced team,” junior forward Josh Ferguson said. “I believe they made the Elite Eight a couple of years ago.”

In their opening game against EU, the Bearkats face the third leading scorer in Division II, Ryan Weekes. The senior defenseman from Florida officially leads Division II with 30 assists and his 38 goals place him at fourth.

“I’m confident in our team’s defensive capabilities,” Junior defenseman Andrew Stoddard said. “We’ve gone against other proficient goal scorers in the past (Stephen Hebert from ULL had 72 goals this season) and we were able to hold our own against him in the past.”

Not to be outdone, the Bearkats bring to the tournament their own scoring machine, in sophomore forward Matt Chabala. The team’s leading scorer with 53 goals and 74 points, Chabala suffered a severe wrist injury that cut short his season last year, but this year came back with a vengeance, scoring at least seven points in five different games, including a season-high seven goals in the Bearkats dismantling of Abilene Christian University, 17-2 on Nov. 10.

“Chabala has played a great season, he’s definitely a performer, he has helped us out a lot,” fellow forward Josh Ferguson said. “He likes to spread the court out and get the dirty work done. If he has played like he has played so far, he’ll definitely help us out in the tournament.”

With five All-Stars in forwards Chabala and Josh, defenseman Juddy and goalies Joseph Zakrewski and Steven Rydarowski, the Kats are well armed to go into the tournament.

Following their Wednesday evening matchup with EU, SHSU takes on the Washington University in St. Louis Bears (11-6) Thursday afternoon in their second Pool A game.

They conclude pool play Friday morning when they take on the defending champion Neumann College Knights (16-0).

“The thing I like about this season is that so many players put an effort into, everyone worked real hard, everyone made practices and we got some great recruits and some great freshman,” Juddy said. “Hopefully we can come back and show the school the money they put in us paid off.”

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