In a desert town with over 250,000 people and a grand total of zero ice skating rinks, the prospect of an ice hockey team might seem impossible.
At points in Dylan DeGeer’s time at Texas Tech, it has been. But DeGeer, who has carried his passion for the sport first from Canada to Houston and now to Lubbock, is determined to keep the sport alive in this area through the Texas Tech ice hockey team.
“I’ve been playing organized hockey since I was 5. I’ve been skating since I was 2,” he said. “I’m not about to quit it yet.”
DeGeer, a senior mechanical engineering major, runs the Tech ice hockey team with Carter Roehm, a junior marketing and management major from Missouri City, and Ethan Stufflebeam, a junior marketing major from El Paso.
The team is a student organization with a history dating back to 1999, DeGeer said. But, it hit a breaking point in 2017, his sophomore year.
That year, during the team’s game against Texas A&M in College Station, they had less than 10 guys show up, he said. Even prior to game, the team was struggling financially and with player commitment.
“After that weekend, team meeting, and the team was canceled for that year, which was, I don’t know about these guys, but it was really sad for me,” DeGeer said.
Roehm, DeGeer and Stufflebeam did not want their experience on the team to end like that, Roehm said.
“I mean it just, we had a full season going, and we were excited and then all of a sudden it just abruptly ended when the team folded and we just, we weren’t done playing hockey,” he said.
So, they got together and planned to put the team together again, Roehm said. After spending a half-year planning, they rebooted the team in 2018.
In the beginning, they had just four or five players. In the first year, they grew to eight players and so would show up every weekend with eight players and that was it, Roehm said.
It was similar to how the team folded in the first place, DeGeer said, but this time around, they were prepared for the difficulty in playing these teams and not really having a chance at winning with such a small roster.
Another challenge, one which the team still faces, was the lack of an ice skating rink in Lubbock. The team practiced in rinks in Odessa and Midland, Stufflebeam said.
Even with the rinks the team could use, it was difficult since the team was not a priority for the rink owners and had to schedule accordingly, DeGeer said.
“Like at Odessa, our practice starts at 9:15 p.m., and then we have a two-hour practice and then have to drive back late at night,” he said. “It is a struggle, but we still get what we can get.”
Still, being able to just playing hockey was worth it, Stufflebeam said.
“Last year, some of my funnest weekends playing hockey was playing with like six guys, and we got killed, but it was great being around the atmosphere of people who just want to play hockey,” Stufflebeam said.
Since then, the team has grown to 20 players, DeGeer said, and it looks like in the coming year they will even be hosting tryouts.
It is mind-blowing to see much the team has grown in such a short amount of time, DeGeer said. The fact they now have a full roster and are even telling people to be rotational players is surreal.
“It does speak to how many people here actually do play hockey or care about hockey, the fact that is grew so much,” he said.
With the team’s reboot, there have been some changes. The team previously used to play in the Texas Collegiate Hockey Conference, Stufflebeam said, but now compete as an independent team.
They still play teams in the TCHC, such as Texas State, UT Austin, UTEP and more, but in exhibition matches, he said. As an independent team, they also have more flexibility in terms of scheduling.
“So we have the freedom to schedule against teams outside of Texas, inside of Texas and kind of wherever,” Stufflebeam said. “So this year we actually expanded to Colorado to play against Air Force.”
Additionally, dropping out of the TCHC enabled the team to reduce the dues required of members, Stufflebeam said. Dues were originally $1,200 when they were in the TCHC, and are now $400. At other schools such as A&M and UTEP, dues are around $3,000 or more.
“So here it’s really effective to just play for 400 bucks,” he said.
Hockey is a very expensive sport, particularly for college students already paying for school and loans, DeGeer said. That was why it was important to get the price down as much as possible to make it feasible for students to play.
“We have people who are like revisiting the past, which is just really nice to see for us anyways, because these guys who, you know, were playing maybe whenever they were younger and then it got too expensive for their families and stuff and so they stopped playing, or they were in areas where it wasn’t strong enough to, you know, have a team,” he said.
For many of these players, Tech’s ice hockey team may be their last chance to play in a competitive environment against other teams, DeGeer said, which was one of the reasons he was motivated to keep the team going.
“We don’t want our hockey to die yet, and we’re trying to give people the opportunity to continue their hockey that maybe they stopped playing before,” he said. “It’s just nice to see and have that team aspect again too, one last time. It’s a nice kind of way to finish off your hockey career, you know, and to just kind of live playing the dream as much as you possibly can.”
Looking to the future, the next step for the team would be an ice rink in Lubbock, Roehm said. The team itself has no role in building one, but hope to build enough awareness and funding to help contribute to any potential plans in the future.
Really long-term, Roehm said one can look to universities like Arizona State University. ASU is home to the Arizona State Sun Devils, a NCAA Division I ice hockey team, according to their website.
“They’re in the desert just like us, and they started out just probably as small and now they have built up and they’re a NCAA Division I program that was in the playoffs last year,” Roehm said. “And it’s just amazing to see how far they’ve come.”
Right now, however, the team is focused on setting a foundation for the years to come, Stufflebeam said, particularly since the current leadership is graduating in the near future.
“When we leave, we kind of hope they can have the same mentality we had of keep the team alive, have fun and just keep doing what we did,” he said.
The goal is to ultimately see hockey kept alive in Lubbock, DeGeer said. Although there may be hopes and discussions about building to the national scale in the distant future, what the team is doing right now is in and of itself important.
“If at some point in the future I can come back to Lubbock and watch a hockey game,” he said, “that’s the dream.”