California’s and Nevada’s Authoritative Voice of Ice and Inline Hockey

Chapman evidence of hockey’s growth, locally

 

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By Andrew Turner

It wasn’t that long ago it seemed that pundits agreed hockey could not gain a foothold in Southern California.

The Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings would treat us to an occasional playoff appearance. They had their die-hards, but the game they so loved needed more groundswell.

Three Stanley Cups in eight years changed that. High school and junior leagues took off, and rising enthusiasm for hockey has been felt at the collegiate level.

Enter the Chapman Panthers, a club hockey team starting their fourth season as a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). 

The students of the university have become the beneficiaries of a new-found excitement for the game.

Panthers assistant captain Heikki Veharanta knows first-hand how special it is that Chapman University has a team. The senior forward grew up playing youth hockey for the Pasadena Maple Leafs and Orange County Hockey Club, but his high school had not joined the organized hockey movement.

“My high school was a little more inland, so we weren’t involved in the Anaheim Ducks Hockey League,” he said. “It was just about when I graduated from high school that the Anaheim Ducks Hockey League took off.”

The growth of the game in Southern California has helped colleges like Chapman field teams. Panthers coach Sam Uisprapassorn recognizes that the expansion of high school hockey provides a strong pool of recruits to pick from.

“It’s great to see. I think you have to give a lot of credit to both the Ducks and the Kings for the amount of resources that they have invested,” Uisprapassorn said. “Now you have a state-wide reach going. For this program, that really helps us. All the kids in the leagues are the ones that we want. For us, those are prime pickings for recruiting purposes.”

In ACHA Division II, Chapman has to compete with UCLA, USC, Loyola Marymount, Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge and San Diego State, as well as Cal, Stanford and San Jose State for players.

For all intents and purposes, one of Chapman’s biggest recruiting chips is the presence of ex-NHL winger Kyle Calder behind the bench. He spent 10 years playing for the Blackhawks, Flyers, Red Wings, Kings and Ducks.

Now, Calder is giving back to the game. He reflected on the help he received from former Chicago Blackhawk Rich Preston as a junior rising through the ranks of the hockey world. The Panthers coach hopes he can fulfill a similar role for the Chapman players, and he wants to impart lessons that can be utilized off the ice.

“I think any time you coach kids, you want to coach them outside of hockey, too,” Calder said of coaching at the collegiate level. “You want to teach them to be men away from the rink. They are a matter of two or three years away from joining the working world, having families.”

Calder mentioned that hockey can be a great character-builder. He wants to ensure that his players make a lifestyle out of the hard work that goes into playing the sport. The lessons of good work ethic and time management are an integral part of what Calder is trying to teach to the team.

Veharanta is a perfect example of the program’s commitment to success both on the ice and in the classroom. The senior is preparing to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in December.

Veharanta appreciates the professionalism that the coaching staff brings to the team. He said that Uisprapassorn, a Chapman alumnus (2002-05), has made sure that everyone has stayed in line.

“Sam’s really done a good job to make sure that we are by the book,” Veharanta said. “If kids try to go outside of the boundaries of the athletic program here, Sam knocks them back within the boundaries and makes sure they’re complying with all athletic department rules and regulations.”

So as hockey’s reach expands, Chapman has taken the next step to ensure that those who want to play get their chance.