DENVER - University of Colorado Denver students, faculty and administration rallied as the university's first-ever sports team, the club hockey squad, skated to an exciting and high-profile debut Oct. 20 at the Pepsi Center.
On hand to drop the puck, Chancellor Jerry Wartgow said "It's a very exciting day." (see photo above) He praised the time, creativity and entrepreneurship that students and faculty put in to give the university its first club sports team. He hailed the team's arrival as a sign that other sports could soon be on the map on the Denver campus.
The hockey players "are the kinds of people we want as student athletes," Wartgow said. "I hope it spurs more students in their sports to come forth."
The university's team, made up of students who love hockey and played competitively in high school, battled the University of Colorado Colorado Springs to a 4-1 loss before about 250 fans.
The squad was spearheaded by junior Gordon Nytes, who, fittingly enough, scored the home team's only goal in the game, which was played in three 15-minute periods. "It was an awesome opportunity," Nytes said. "I wish we could have won that one. I'm glad we have a team. It's awesome to play and represent the school."
As if playing in the Pepsi Center didn't pump up the players enough, they received a visit from Chancellor Wartgow in the locker room before the game. Wartgow told the players they were an inspiration and that they were "making history" for the university. Wartgow dropped the ceremonial first puck at center ice and received a souvenir team jersey, which he held up to a roar from the crowd.
After the game, Coach Casey Earp applauded the support the team received. "This one hurts, but it was very fun coming in here. The Pepsi Center is obviously the mecca of hockey here in Colorado," Earp said. "We had a bunch of great fans -- students, alumni and faculty. The Chancellor came in and had a few words. It was as exciting as it could get -- just a little disappointing today (with the loss)."
The team is now 1-5 in its inaugural season, with regular season games continuing through February. The club plays games at The Edge Ice Arena in Littleton nand the Promenade Ice Center in Westminster.
"It's huge," hockey club faculty sponsor Greg Cronin, associate professor, Integrated Biology, said after the game. "It's historic. I don't think the majority of the players realize how historic it is. Nobody came to the University of Colorado Denver to play hockey. Now we've moved to the top of the list, as long as we can keep support like this coming."
Fans said a team sport gives the university something to rally around and helps establish an identity. "I think it's cool to finally have any type of sports team going," said Michael Festag, a senior. "It's a blast to be able to watch them play on Pepsi Center ice."
The team has a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/UCDHockey) listing its full schedule and other information.