By Josh Apple, C2M Contributor

The George Mason University Roller Hockey club, in just its second year of existence, recently competed in the 2010 Collegiate Roller Hockey Championships. The event was held for just 16 teams at the Silver Creek Sportsplex in San Jose, Calif. from April 7-11.

Despite winning just three games one year ago, the squad was an impressive 13-3 during the regular season with 12 consecutive victories.

They were 4-3-2 in the Southeastern Collegiate Roller Hockey League playoffs prior to their journey to California.

“Playing at Nationals was a whole slew of emotions,” said the 21-year-old captain Naseer Rashid. “It was a new experience for all of us playing at a different rink, and more so in such a big event.”

The team played four games during its stay in San Jose and returned home with a 1-2-1 record. In its opening contest, the team fell to Rowan 9-5. In its next game, the team tied a very strong Tampa team.

They then captured a 7-5 victory over the Metropolitan State College of Denver in their next contest, before losing to UC San Diego in overtime to be eliminated.

“My proudest moment from this year was the game at Nationals against Tampa,” said Rashid. “Our first game as a club was last year against them and they walked all over us, 11-0. That game set the story for the rest of the year for us, and Tampa went on to win the Southeast Region two years in a row. But this year, we tied them, and it showed how far the team has come.”

Rashid, a forward for the Patriots and a systems engineering major, has been playing roller hockey on and off since high school, but he began his competitive career just one year ago during the team’s inaugural season. He is not one of the team’s leaders statistically, but he plays a very important role for the squad as the captain.

“Captains can be a lot of things,” said Rashid. “They can give the big speech before the game, be the best player or a number of other things. I try to get things going for the team. I help organize team workouts, make sure everyone’s ready for practices and games and play as hard as I can.”

Rashid started the team along with Dan Brooks, John Liebold and Alex Spitzel. He is proud of how this team has progressed from a three-win team in its first year to a national contender in its second. Rashid sees the quick turnaround as resulting from both the increased talent-level and the better
attitudes of the players.

Admittedly, Rashid usually leaves the big speeches to Spitzel, a senior and sport management major with lots of hockey experience.

Although the Patriots were just 4-3-2 at Regionals, the squad’s strong regular season record and difficulty of schedule impressed the committee.

The upperclassmen agree that the club’s turnaround has a lot to do with the new arrivals. The large freshman class — which included Andrew Lensing,
Cameron Lensing, Harrison Murdock, Jordan Pohl, Kyle Luukkonen and Mike Zyuzin — has brought the team to a whole new level.

“The young guys stay calm under pressure and are willing to do anything to help the team achieve success,” said Spitzel. “I can tell by the work they all put in that they are going to become good leaders one day. I feel good leaving the team in their hands.”

Another important contributor, sophomore Ryan Ellis, began playing roller hockey when he was just 7 years old. Ellis, a 20-year-old business marketing major and forward for the squad, decided to join the team not only to stay in shape, but also to meet new people and reunite with some of his hockey friends from high school.

“I was really excited to be at Nationals, and really had no expectations,” said Ellis. “We knew we had a chance to win, but as a second year team, we just had no expectations.”

All of the players were just happy to be selected to go to Nationals, and entered the event with a nothing-to-lose mindset. Not only was the team founded just one year ago, but they have a limited practice schedule as well.

They typically practice just once a week on Thursday nights; however, when tournaments such as Regionals or Nationals are in the near future, they do increase the practice load to twice a week.

“After last years’ 3-13 season, we really turned the team around,” said Ellis. “It was an honor to play with everyone on the team, whether they are a fifth-year student or a freshman. No matter how it ended, it was a great ride.”

John Haislip, a 21-year-old sophomore and business management major, has also been on the roller hockey team for both years of its existence, and has been playing for 11 years overall.

“Just to make it to Nationals is enough to make me happy after only winning two or three games last year,” said Haislip. “And I know we will be obtaining even more talented skaters next year.”

With an appearance to Nationals in just its second season, the team’s optimism is running high.

Members also expect more freshmen to join the squad next season, adding even more talent to the already skilled team.

“This team will be returning to Nationals for a long time,” said Rashid. “We’ve started to make our presence both in the nation and at [Mason]. We’ve set up a team with veteran talent and a young core, and we’re always looking for something to improve on. It’s part of our competitive nature.”