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The Thin Ice of Obscurity : Offbeat Club Team Plays Solid Brand of Hockey for CSUN Despite Lack of Financial, Fan Support

February 11, 1988|RICH TOSCHES | Times Staff Writer

Can you imagine the Los Angeles Kings holding car washes to raise enough money to keep themselves on the ice? Can you imagine the Los Angeles Kings playing a league game before a dozen fans?

OK, the Kings are a bad example.

Can you imagine the Montreal Canadiens having to hose down Oldsmobiles to raise enough money to keep themselves on the ice? Can you imagine Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers playing a league game before 12 fans or having to sell raffle tickets to raise money for pucks?

Of course not. No one can imagine that. They're silly questions.

But there is a hockey team that plays its league games before a crowd that would fit comfortably in your kitchen and that keeps itself on skates through fund-raising events and by having the players dig very deeply into their own pockets.

It is the Cal State Northridge hockey team, a squad that is thought of much as philosophers think of life in other galaxies: There probably is something out there, but it is nearly impossible to prove.

"I did a marketing survey on our campus for a project last semester," said one of the team's three captains, Derrick Toole. "We found out that nobody knows about us. Honest. I think the figure was 10% of our own students who even knew a hockey team existed."

School officials show a similar lack of interest. For example, CSUN played Cal State Fullerton on a recent Sunday in what the Matadors considered one of their most important games of the season. A call to the CSUN sports information office Monday to find out the score, more than 24 hours after the game was over, brought this response: "We wouldn't know that. Maybe the intramural sports office would know that."

A call to the intramural sports office brought this response: "We don't know that right now. But I can give you the phone number of a guy who might know."

A sports writer at the school's newspaper, the Sundial, also offered little hope. "No, we wouldn't know that. We don't even know their record or anything."

Woodward and Bernstein, it seems, were able to uncover the Watergate scandal with fewer phone calls than it takes to find out the score of CSUN's hockey games. That particular game, by the way, ended in a 3-3 tie.

CSUN's athletic department classifies the hockey team as a club sport and has placed full responsibility for the program in the hands of the intramural department, for which all financial support comes from the student government. The hockey team must dip into the same money jar as those students who compete in sports such as tug of war, Ping-Pong and foosball. It is not a very large jar, and the hockey team this season was able to pull out only $1,100, which works out to about 3 1/2 cents per student.

This left the team $19,000 short of the total needed to conduct a full-fledged season, which includes three trips. So the players held a raffle. The unusual thing about this raffle was that the players had to buy the merchandise that they raffled.

"Nobody would donate anything to us," team manager and player Jeff Golden said. "No one. Nothing.

"So then we had to raise the money among ourselves. Out of our own pockets. Right now, we're up to about $500 or $600 per player. Some pay more, some pay less, depending on who has it and who doesn't. We lose a lot of guys when they find out that it's going to cost them a lot of money to play on this team."

With all of these obstacles, what is your guess as to the quality of hockey exhibited by this bunch? A swarm of maniacal young men on wobbly skates who probably think that the Stanley Cup is a piece of personal protective equipment valued highly by a goaltender named Stanley, right?

Wrong. Despite being perhaps the only ice hockey team in the world whose nickname evokes images of bullfighting, the CSUN Matadors are a somewhat remarkable collection of swift skaters, crisp passers and hard shooters who have compiled an 8-3-2 record in the Southern California Collegiate Hockey Assn., bumping heads against teams from UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, Stanford, Arizona State and Cal.

The team, which plays most of its home games on its 20-game schedule at the Pickwick Ice Arena in Burbank and a few at the Conejo Skating Center in Newbury Park, won the SCCHA in the 1977-78 season and again in 1982-83. The Matadors are currently in second place in the 1987-88 league standings.

"I'm amazed at the dedication this team has shown," said the team's volunteer coach, Bob Donahue, a transplant from Framingham, Mass., who has spent most of his 39 years playing or coaching the sport, including a stint as head coach of one of the best high school hockey teams in his home state, a team that produced NHL standout Peter Taglianetti of the Winnipeg Jets.

"I've been around good hockey, and this is really good hockey," Donahue said. "It was a pleasant surprise to see so many good hockey players around here. I was very surprised, but it sure was a nice surprise."

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