Long Beach State earning high marks
The year the Anaheim Ducks became the first NHL franchise from California to ever win a Stanley Cup, hockey took a hit on the West Coast when the Long Beach Ice Dogs disbanded.
For kids with a love for the game growing up in the late 1990s, there were few things more enjoyable than taking the short trip on Pacific Coast Highway to catch a game at Long Beach Arena.
Tomas Kapusta, Kelly Askew and John Lilley had played their way into the hearts of many, and it was to our dismay when the “No Bark, All Bite” Ice Dogs played their final game in 2007.
Where would the fans go after their weekend home became nothing more than a mural of blue whales overlooking the Pacific Ocean?
Turns out, the answer was always right in front of us.
For Long Beach hockey fans, college hockey has been nothing short of their savior.
Long Beach State started its club hockey program in 1978. The team didn’t survive its initial arrival in the college game, but after a brief recess, it returned for good in 1993.
The high point of Beach hockey came in the 2007-08 season, when the club finished fourth in the West Region. That was under the leadership of then-coach Joe Sheehy.
Long Beach has a new commander-in-chief now. Alumnus Frank Mitrano has taken over behind the bench, and the third-year coach has his team believing they’ll be the ones to return the American Collegiate Hockey Association club to prominence.
“Looking back further, our program was doing really well for a while and then we kind of slipped off the radar,” Mitrano said. “We’re really trying to reestablish ourselves as one of the top programs that competes night in and night out.”
A strong stretch by the team over the past month has the players sensing a breakthrough. Long Beach State (9-4-3-1) jumped from No. 13 to No. 11 in the latest Division II West Region rankings. Teams must finish in the top 10 to qualify for Regionals.
The 49ers find themselves right next to their archrival Cal State Fullerton (No. 12 in the West Region). The teams have split two meetings so far this season.
Forward Elan Dunaev has played on both sides of the rivalry.
“My first three years playing college hockey, I was with Fullerton,” he said. “I hated Long Beach because I was on that side of the rivalry. We were always competitive and couldn’t stand each other.
“It was definitely a healthy rivalry, and I could never see myself putting on the other colors.”
That was until he enrolled at Long Beach State to attend law school. Dunaev is also pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Spanish.
Sean Hoang, who played with Mitrano when he was at LBSU, has joined the 49ers’ coaching staff as an assistant. His brother, Ian, is the top facilitator on the team, and he’s proud to play alongside his brother once more.
“It’s exciting because I grew up watching him play,” Ian Hoang said of his brother. “He had a big influential role when it came to me coming to Long Beach.”
Ian Hoang plays on the top line with Zac Zomaya and Shin Yamamoto. Hoang leads the team in points (63) and assists (46).
The Beach plays its home games at The Rinks-Lakewood Ice. Home games are special for 49ers goaltender Corey Jones, who grew up in Lakewood.
“It’s cool because a lot of teams don’t have their own locker room, they don’t have their own rink to call their own,” he said. “We have our own logo on the ice. It’s almost like an NCAA atmosphere because you can come in whenever you want.”
Jones added that it’s nice to play in front of the familiar faces he knew going back to middle school and high school.
Long Beach hockey fans, your team awaits you.
– Andrew Turner