Ice Breaker: UTEP Hockey Club Wins Conference Title

Last Updated on February 14, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published February 14, 2017

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

The University of Texas at El Paso’s Hockey Club enjoyed a dominating 2016-17 season that included the first Texas Collegiate Hockey Conference championship and a #7 ranking by the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).

UTEP Hockey Celebrates
The UTEP Hockey Club celebrates after winning the Texas Collegiate Hockey Conference championship on Feb. 11 at the El Paso County Special Events Center. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications

The Miners club, a registered student organization, won the conference title Feb. 11, 2017, with a 6-0 victory against the Dallas Baptist University Patriots at the El Paso County Special Events Center. The win allowed them to move on to the ACHA regional tournament that will be Feb. 24 in Greeley, Colorado, about 50 miles northeast of Denver.

“We took care of business,” said Alek Lazarski, sophomore biochemistry major and the club’s goalie. The Seattle, Washington, native has tasted victory in the past with other teams and he shared that feeling with his teammates. “Now our goal is to prove that we’re not just the best in Texas.”

If successful in Colorado, the team will qualify for the national championship tournament in mid-March in Columbus, Ohio.

Those involved with the student-run team agree that it has come a long way since its launch during the fall 2015 semester. Today, its 25-man roster is filled with undergraduate students from El Paso and cities in Canada, Mexico and the Czech Republic. The team knew their home ice would host the conference championship, so they prepared hard for the season, said second year head coach Tom Herman.

“The team bought into the system from the beginning,” Herman said a few days after the championship game that took their record to 30-3. He lauded the student-athletes for their sacrifices and investment in teamwork. “Our depth was among the keys to our success.”

Josh Baeza, a junior finance major who plays a center forward position, recalled his efforts to start the club in early 2015. The El Paso native started playing hockey when he was 6 years old. Baeza described meeting with other students and Herman in early 2015 to create a club for those who age out of junior hockey, but still want to play.

“I’ll run with it and make it happen,” he recalled telling the original few interested students. Baeza had practiced with the El Paso Rhinos’ junior hockey team and played with them one season.

He said the first year was tough, but at the team’s core were solid participants who served as role models.

“All of this year’s success you could see coming,” Baeza said. He said that included the fan base and community and University support. “We expected to win every game. We played with confidence and enthusiasm. It all came together.”

The team also is successful off the ice in its community outreach activities, such as Red Ribbon Week and high school visits to promote higher education, said Patricia “Trisha” Luna, a UTEP MBA student, club treasurer and director of external operations. She is credited for social media promotions that helped tell the story of the team and its fun, affordable, family-friendly home games. That combination has led to interest in the program by potential players.

“It’s amazing what we were able to create in two years,” Luna said. “We did a good job.”

The team’s success is not lost on the University’s Recreational Sports Department, which oversees several club teams. The department provides the clubs with minimal direction and limited financial support. The hockey team members are as successful at raising funds as they are on the ice.

“My hat’s off to them,” said Ruben Espinoza, the associate director of the Recreational Sports Department. “They are active. From a student development perspective, this is an example of what we want our clubs to do.”