Orion Olsen had only spent a couple hours in Tucson when he worried that he’d made a mistake.
Olsen’s August orientation visit to the University of Arizona wasn’t matching the images of UA he’d glossed through on Facebook over the summer.
“When there’s not many people on campus,” Olsen said, “it seems a little bit less … lively.”
Olsen, a Minnesota native, knew about the UA through his uncle, an alumnus of the school, and his high school hockey coach, who told him of competitive club programs out West.
Olsen wanted to continue his college hockey career after a disappointing stint at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
The UA, with warm weather, a top business school and an energetic campus life, seemed like a nice change of scenery from the snow back home.
That’s the pitch UA club hockey coach Chad Berman sells to recruits, the majority of whom come from the Midwest or East Coast.
What Berman can’t offer recruits is ice.
Berman, now in his second year as head coach of the UA hockey team, took the job knowing that Tucson only has one temporary ice rink in town at the Tucson Convention Center.
Now that the UA shares the rink with the Tucson Roadrunners, the Wildcats have faced limited practice time and were forced to move their games to undesirable start times.
“The running joke is that we’re running a hockey program without ice,” Berman said. “It’s crazy.”
Berman and his team try to practice three to four times a week when they’re at home. The team usually squeezes those hours in during the mid-afternoon, after the Roadrunners have taken the ice.
The bigger challenge facing the UA hockey team has been the shift in game times.
Whereas the Wildcats used to draw large crowds for Friday and Saturday night games, the team now plays a bulk of their home contests at 2 p.m., with the evening spot left to the Roadrunners.
“I would say the Roadrunners absolutely have complicated things,” Berman said. “It’s great for hockey growth, but financially it’s been difficult when we’re playing a handful of Friday games at 2 p.m. There’s less than 100 people in the building.”
The Roadrunners are out of town this weekend which means that the Wildcats will get to take the ice during primetime as they host rival ASU.
Arizona and ASU’s club teams both compete in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s top division, but the Sun Devils have held the upper hand in the rivalry over the past few years.
Arizona enters the weekend with a 9-11-1 record. ASU is 16-2.
Berman hopes that a win over ASU, in front of a couple thousand people instead of a couple hundred, will spur program interest going forward.
“I hear coaches sometimes say that it’s just another game,” Berman said. “It’s not just another game. “We owe our fans the opportunity to watch a successful Arizona team against them.”