IHAAZ graduates rolling on with in-state college teams
Going to college doesn’t have to mean the end of roller hockey for players who grew up playing the game in IHAAZ.
With Arizona State University competing in a league at the college level, Jake Dempsey out of Yuma will get that chance to continue competing in the game he loves. It’s always been one of his dreams, and it will soon come true.
“I look forward for the opportunity to play against top-notch players from around the country,” Dempsey said. “That is why it has been and continues to be a goal to play for the ASU roller team.”
Arizona State is part of the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL), which is a division of the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA).
A Desert Duel was held the first weekend of December and featured the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University and Arizona State. Eighteen of the players on the rosters at the tournament developed and honed their roller hockey skills in IHAAZ, which has been a training ground for many collegiate players over the past decade.
Arizona Outcasts coach Nick Boyarsky said IHAAZ divisions can get pretty competitive and that has translated into strong roller hockey players.
So it’s no surprise that the WCRHL and NCRHA are thriving, thanks in part to IHAAZ alums.
“There’s always a handful of players with some IHAAZ background playing throughout the WCRHL and NCRHA, but this season has got to be one of the largest to date, with 18 current players just in the WCRHL,” Boyarsky said. “This number is very important, as it means collegiate roller hockey has become a true alternative for many to ACHA ice. There are players within IHAAZ now who are high school aged and are making their future college plans based on wanting to play roller hockey, I think that’s awesome for the sport.”
There is a lot Dempsey loves about the game because of his IHAAZ experience and it was a no-brainer to have a desire to play at the next level.
“I enjoy the strategy, high speed and the ability to use the whole rink,” Dempsey said. “With no offsides and no icing, it opens up opportunities to be really creative while playing the game.”
Jake’s father, Tim, is thankful his son and others have the opportunity to play beyond their high school years.
“I think it is great Jake has an opportunity to continue playing the sport he loves in college,” Tim said. “We have so many great memories from tournaments through the years, it is good to know they can continue in college.”
Jeff Johnson is a coach with the Yuma Blaze and his two sons played IHAAZ and in the WCRHL and NCRHA. One of his son’s, Jared, is a current player at Arizona and another son, David, is a graduate of Arizona State.
He wasn’t sure what to think of the collegiate league when David started playing, but his perception of it soon changed.
“When my oldest son played his first season for ASU’s ‘B’ team (now known as Division 3), I honestly had visions of ‘beer league,’ but nothing could have been further from the truth,” Johnson said. “The NCRHA and WCRHL are great leagues, very well organized and very competitive.”
Johnson said the fact that many want to go on to play in college speaks volumes about IHAAZ.
“The clubs and coaches involved know and love the sport, and I think that translates into players who are like-minded,” Johnson said. “The fact that many of the players want to and are able to continue to play in college speaks to the quality of the program.”
The trend of IHAAZ players continuing to play in college isn’t something that is expected to fade.
“I fully expect to see IHAAZ players continue to make the transition to the collegiate level,” Johnson said. “Just knowing and watching the young talent play each year, I see a bright future for our sport.”
— Brian Lester
(Dec. 26, 2017)