Hockey Champs Score Presidential Visit: Bronchos Celebrate National Championship at UCO
Forward Sam Rice, 89, takes the puck during a Spring 2017 hockey game. (Ryan Naeve/ The Vista).
The University of Central Oklahoma hockey team celebrated their recent National Championship victory with a ceremony, allowing the university to honor and reflect their successful season.
The event was held in UCO’s Wellness Center in front of friends, family, and peers. UCO President Don Betz, along with other administrators, were present to congratulate the team on their success as well.
“You have brought a sense of pride and winning to this University,” Betz said to the team, leading to an instant spree of cheers from the team and its supporters.
The Bronchos won their second National Championship in just three years – a first for an ice hockey team in Oklahoma.
The UCO hockey team is also the back-to-back Western Championship Hockey League champion. While still a relatively young conference, it’s been home to three of the past four (national?) champions.
“We’ve built something now,” senior captain Chad Roorda said. “People want to come play here now and that’s what you want.”
Building a team like this is something head coach Craig McAllister has focused on in the off season.
Because the university does not fully fund ice hockey, many of the sport’s administrators have been key to the program’s survival and evolution.
“This team couldn’t survive without the support of everybody here,” McAllister said.
McAllister, who is also a full-time pharmacist, started the program from scratch in 2006. In just over a decade, he has helped build the program into a nationally-recognized ice hockey program.
2016/2017 ACHA National Champions Banquet #bighardware
— UCO Hockey (@bronchoshockey) April 15, 2017
The games began with support from parents and a few others, but are now school-wide events, impressing even the most hockey-centric schools around the country. “It’s become one of the most difficult places to play now,” McAllister said.
There have been noticeable changes to the fan base of the team over the past four years. “This last game when we played OU is something I’ll never forget. It was the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in,” Roorda said.
For the players who were on the 2015 championship team and for McAllister, hosting this year’s cup felt even more rewarding.
“Last time it felt like we were destined [to win], this time we worked hard and earned it,” McAllister said at the ceremony.
Two new banners on the Wellness Center’s basketball court walls were unveiled to conclude the ceremony. One was the back-to-back WCHL Champions, and the other was the 2017 National Championship banner.
“It was truly an honor,” Roorda said. “It’s just truly special to see everyone get recognized.”
The 2017-2018 hockey season begins in October with a slightly different team as the Bronchos will lose some key members, both on the ice and in leadership.