Over the past decade or so, the growth of roller hockey has been tremendous in the Pittsburgh area as well as around the country.
Fans can see just how much the game has progressed at the collegiate level when the Eastern Collegiate Roller Hockey Association holds its Halloween Extravaganza at the Harmarville BladeRunners Complex on Oct. 29-30.
Three local programs are in the tourney field: Duquesne, Penn State-New Kensington and Pitt, the host school. The tournament features a 23-game schedule spread over Oct. 29 and Oct. 30 with teams from three divisions (I, II, B). Penn State, Buffalo, Binghamton, Shippensburg and West Chester are the other five programs slated to appear. Pitt is the only local Division I team. Duquesne and Penn State-New Kensington are both Division II programs.
“It’s exciting,” said Pitt forward Matt Kurczewski, who is the club president of Pitt roller hockey and one of the tournament’s organizers. “We’re hoping to have a big turnout form the community. It’s going to be fun actually playing in front of some people who are there to watch us.”
Since college roller hockey games are mainly grouped into weekend tournaments to cut down on costs (all teams play a 21-game schedule spread out on weekends from October until March), it will be the first time in a while that Pitt players get to play in a friendly arena.
“It’s just nice to be able to get your family and friends to come out and see you. A lot of times, no one knows what we do,” Kurczewski said. “It’s nice, too, because you get to sleep in your own bed and not restricted to sleeping with six people in a hotel room or living off of Wendy’s all weekend.”
Buffalo and Binghamton enter the tournament tied at No. 24 in the national rankings, while Pitt has been to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 of the national tournament, which is run by the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association. In addition, Buffalo features forward Ryan Perkins, who led the nation in scoring and won the NCRHA scoring title last year with 63 points (45+18).
“There should be some good competition,” Kurczewski said. “The teams are pretty good.”
Penn State and Binghamton play at 10 a.m. Oct. 29, while Pitt and Buffalo meet at noon. Buffalo and Binghamton square off at 4:15 p.m. Pitt and Penn State battle at 6:30 p.m. On Oct. 30, Buffalo and Penn State play at 7 a.m., while Pitt and Binghamton meet at 9 a.m.
In Oct. 29’s Division II schedule, Duquesne and Shippensburg play at 8 a.m., while West Chester and Duquesne play at 1:15 p.m. Shippensburg and Penn State-New Kensington battle at 2:15 p.m. Penn State-New Kensington meets Duquesne at 8:30 p.m. and Shippensburg and West Chester play at 9:30 p.m. On Oct. 30, West Chester and Penn State-New Kensington play at 8 a.m.
Pitt, Penn State, Buffalo and Binghamton both have B teams, which are essentially junior varsity squads.
“Most schools only roster eight or nine guys on team, so they make a second team, which is like a feeder program from the younger players,” Kurczewski said. “They play the same amount of games."
In the B tournament on Oct. 29, Penn State and Binghamton play at 9 a.m. Pitt and Buffalo meet at 11 a.m. Buffalo and Binghamton battle at 3:15 p.m., while Pitt and Penn State square off at 5:15 p.m. Pitt and Binghamton play at 10:30 p.m. and Buffalo and Penn State meet at 11:30 p.m. On Oct. 30, Pitt plays Buffalo again at 10 a.m., while Penn State meets Binghamton at 11:15 a.m.
These college roller hockey games are unique and different from NHL games. Players skate around on rollerblades on a hard dek as opposed to ice skates on ice. In addition, each team has only a goalie and four skaters on the rink at one time and there are no offside infractions or checking, although some physical contact is allowed. The games are divided into three 12-minute periods and pucks are made of hard plastic, not rubber. All of those factors make the games quick and high-scoring.
Kurczewski hopes a lot of high school players will come and check out the tournament over the weekend.
“The high school league in this area is growing. For those kids, it gives them a taste of what college roller hockey all about,” he said. “They can see it up close instead of hearing us talk about it.”
Kurczewski, a senior physical therapy major, has watched college and high school roller hockey grow. In high school, he played for Moon in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Roller Hockey League. He’s played at Pitt the past four years and watched the program improve from when it was formed around 1998.
“From when I was in high school until now, the number of teams and quality of players has increased dramatically,” he said. “It’s nice now with the high school league, we can draw players from around here.”