Gators hockey driven by passion despite struggles
The SF State Gators ice hockey team was born out of a passion for the sport. As one of the school’s twelve club sports, it was organized last year by students who wanted to play so much they created a team themselves.
The team plays Division Three hockey as one of five teams in the Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association. San Jose State University and Stanford are among the other schools in the association. Last season, the Gators had no coaches but are now coached by ex-players. All but two of the players were born in California with one born in Illinois and one in Guatemala. The Gators have gotten off to a poor start this season, as they have lost their first five games and saw two players fall to serious injuries in the first three.
Get to know some of the players:
Andrew Duenes, a mechanical engineering major, is an alternate captain and the team president. He plays on the wing for the Gators. He got interested in hockey as a small child. “I started watching hockey at a young age,” he writes in an email interview. “Both of my parents watch hockey all the time.” He started playing roller hockey when he was five.
The Gators voted for club officers for the first time this year, electing Duenes president. “My job is basically to look over the club and make final decisions,” he writes. He knows he can rely on the other officers. “I trust my other officers to do their job, making this year pretty easy for myself,” he writes. “I couldn’t do much without my other officers.”
Duenes was born in Northridge, California but grew up in West Hills, California. His favorite team in the National Hockey League is the Los Angeles Kings. He describes himself as “a HUGE Kings fan.” He grew up watching them and hoping to play for them one day. He tries to attend at least one Kings game each year and wants to see them face the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center, the Sharks’ home arena, and at the outdoor game that will be held at Levi’s Stadium February 21, 2015. He especially wants to go because he missed the outdoor game the Kings hosted at Dodger Stadium earlier this year. His favorite NHL player is L.A. goaltender Jonathan Quick. “He is the best goaltender in the league,” Duenes writes. “Watching him play is awesome, with all of the ridiculous saves he makes.” As a spectator, he loves hockey’s fast pace and the skill the players demonstrate. “All of the moves the players can do and the shots they can make is crazy,” he writes.
He believes more people would enjoy hockey if they took the time to actually watch it. “Go to a game, it will change your perspective,” he writes in reference to those who are uninterested in hockey. “Give it a chance, it’s an amazing sport.”
Matthew Gold, who majors in history, is the Gators’ vice president and plays left or right wing, “depending on what the coaches need at the time,” he writes in an email interview. He has enjoyed hockey for basically as long as he can remember. He was born in 1993, the year Anaheim, California got an NHL team, then named the Mighty Ducks. His father, whom Gold describes as “a huge hockey fan all of his life,” became an avid fan of the new club. Gold, who was born and raised in Upland, California, also is a fan of the team now named the Anaheim Ducks.
Gold got away from the sport for a while until a friend took him to game during his junior year of high school, “and I fell in love again,” he writes. That game also prompted his interest in playing hockey. He starting out on roller skates until late in his freshman year when he discovered SF State had a team. Then, he writes, “I put on ice skates and began actively working to start playing ice hockey.”
He loves hockey’s speed and constant action. “There’s never a dull moment in hockey,” he writes. His favorite aspect of the game is the camaraderie seen even among opponents. “And the best part is after all the hitting and chirping, for the most part, teams can put everything aside and shake hands at the end of the game,” he writes. “There’s a brotherhood in hockey that you won’t find in any other sport.”
He encourages those who say they do not like hockey without having watched the sport to give it a chance before passing judgment. “Don’t knock it til you try it,” he writes.
Gold appreciates how well the team gets along. “This team is one of the tightest I’ve ever played on,” he writes. “I’ve never had so much fun playing hockey.”
Corey Bemis, a freshman who majors in history, is a forward. He has played hockey competitively since he was thirteen. He started out playing roller hockey and only made the switch to ice hockey this season. He admits it is a change, but he was able to make the transition easily. “It was pretty smooth,” he says. The biggest adjustment for him was the difference in skating style, but he reached the same speed on the ice that he was accustomed to off it “after two or three practices,” Bemis says.
The Cupertino native is a lifelong Sharks fan. “I’ve always been obsessed with hockey,” Bemis says. “I’ve been going to Sharks games since I was eighteen months old.” His favorite NHL players are Tommy Wingels and Tomas Hertl of the Sharks. “He’s a fun player to watch,” he says of Wingels. He dislikes but respects the rival Kings. “It really goes to show the Kings’ strength,” Bemis says of L.A.’s historic comeback victory against the Sharks in the first round of the 2014 playoffs in which the Kings became the fourth team to win a seven-game series after losing the first three contests.
“I’d say it’s a growing sport,” he says of hockey in California. People “really should give it a chance.”
Paul Klein, a computer science major, plays right wing. He grew up in a family of hockey players and has been involved with the sport from a young age. “I started playing hockey a long time ago,” he says. Klein is from Laguna Niguel, California and is a fan of the Ducks. He played hockey at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, one of the first high schools in the state with a hockey team. He played the sport in the first year a team hit the ice at both JSerra and SF State. He first got involved with the Gators after seeing Andrew Duenes, now the club president, sitting at a table the team set up and wearing a Kings jersey. He thinks the presence of a hockey team at SF State is a sign of the move “toward making it a more athletic school.”
Klein talks about his team’s passion for the sport. “We really do care about the sport of hockey,” he says. He encourages people who are interested in finding out more about the Gators to stop by their table, which is out on the quad every so often, or to visit their Facebook page.
Ryan Murnane, a history major in his third semester at SF State, is a defenseman and alternate captain for the Gators. He was introduced to the sport by his father and started out playing pond hockey when he was about ten. He loves that it is “one of the fastest sports there is, always going,” he says. He was born in Wheeling, Illinois but grew up more in and around Sacramento.
His favorite NHL team is the Detroit Red Wings, followed by the Chicago Blackhawks. He will also root for “anyone who plays against the [Boston] Bruins.” He has a particular distaste for that team because he thinks they play dirty. His favorite player of all-time is Steve Yzerman, a Hall of Famer who played for Detroit. Among active players, he says, “I really like the way Steven Stamkos plays.” Stamkos plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I think it’s the greatest sport,” Murnane says. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
Michael Parra, a criminal justice major in his fifth semester at SF State, plays on the wing– “left preferably”–for the school’s ice hockey club. He started out in the sport by playing street hockey with his brothers in front of their house in San Bruno when he was about six years old. Now twenty-six, he is the oldest member of the team, which he calls “a pretty young group.” The average age of the players is nineteen. He feels a sense of responsibility to the rest of the team because of his age and because of his varied experiences, having both played and coached, been captain, and dealt with injuries. “I want to provide a sense of leadership to the younger guys,” he says. He has played in two international tournaments, one in Canada and one in Florida. “It was actually pretty cool … being able to play in a serious but fun environment,” Parra says.
His favorite team and player in the National Hockey League are his hometown San Jose Sharks and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively. He feels hockey “has grown a lot” in California but more so in the southern part of the state. “As the years have gone on, the sport has really progressed, especially in So Cal,” he says. He admits a begrudging respect for the Sharks’ Southern California rivals, the Kings and the Ducks. “I can’t really stand So Cal sports teams, but I admire their business practices in Anaheim as well as LA,” he says. “They’re doing the right thing off the ice.” He adds that the Kings’ goalie, Jonathan Quick, can be “the best player in the world” when he is at the top of his game.
He thinks more people would enjoy the game if they would only give it a chance. “It’s unfortunate that in the Bay Area, it doesn’t get as much respect as football or baseball, and I think that’s because people don’t understand it,” Parra says. “If people had someone explain it to them…it only takes a couple games to get hooked.”
Parra truly loves the game. “Hockey—I live and breathe it,” he says.
Casey Ticsay is a sophomore BECA major in her first season with the Gators. She was exposed to hockey early on. “My family is a hockey family,” she explains. Her father and uncles played the sport. “I’m glad I thought to grow up with it because now it’s my life,” she says. She started playing hockey when she was eleven. “I’ve always played on boys’ teams,” she says, because there were not enough girls to field a separate team. She did briefly play for an all-girls travel team as a kid, but she prefers to be on male teams because it is what she is used to and because she likes the “more aggressive” style of play. She feels her gender has never put her at a disadvantage or made other players look down on her. “I liked how they didn’t treat me any differently,” she says of the boys and men she has played with and against throughout her time in hockey. In fact, she believes skating with the guys has helped her. “It made me a lot tougher and stronger,” says the five-foot-two defenseman.
She is from Granada Hills, California and has long loved the Kings. I’ve been a “huge fan of the Los Angeles Kings since I was a kid,” Ticsay says. “I’ve been going to games literally since I was a baby because of my dad.” One of her favorite players is L.A. defenseman Drew Doughty, though she says, “I love everyone on the team.” She is also a fan of some of the greats from the past. My dad “always talked about the older players [such as] Bobby Orr, Stan Mikita. I like them,” she says.
Ticsay loves hockey and was grateful for the opportunity to keep playing in college. She says she was really glad when she found out SF State has a team because she had played a lot in Southern California and “would have missed it” if she had to stop. She speaks passionately about the sport. “I think it’s exciting,” Ticsay says. “I think hockey’s an amazing sport. I could talk about it all day.”