A Season at the Rink

Writer: 
March 31, 2004

 


Sega segue: club hockey coach Selman  and team's favorite videogame

 Sega segue: club hockey coach Selman and team's favorite videogame. Photo: Les Todd

 

NHL All-Star Hockey '97 on Sega Genesis is the favorite hockey videogame of Duke's club hockey team. Before Duke vs. Georgetown at 8:00 p.m., it was Sega Hockey (Penalties--Off, Fighting--On): Dave Bradley, a six-foot-two senior, the team vice president, business manager, webmaster, and starting center, vs. Brent Selman, a thirty-two-year-old Canadian and head coach. They faced off on the TV at the front of the bus, a 2003 MCI Renaissance 4500 C executive sleeper conversion coach that the team had chartered for the trip to Maryland.

"I'm the Leafs," said Selman, a lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Selman rarely plays Sega and looked every bit the novice, tensely hunched over his controller, thumbs poised above the buttons. Bradley, an expert, reclined in his seat. Minutes into the first period, Selman turned to his opponent, "Wait! You can speed blast the puck?"

"Yeah," said Bradley. Selman was incredulous. "Were you gonna tell me about that, Davey? How do you shoot a wrist shot? Come on, tell me! A or B, Davey? A or B?"

Even if you don't know how to shoot a wrist shot, one of the charms of club hockey is that you are welcome to come out and learn. Like most club sports, hockey's open to players at any level of skill or experience. Only recently, though, could you learn from Brent Selman, who, in his third season at Duke, is unlike all of his predecessors and the majority of club sport coaches in one important respect: He is not a student. By day, Selman is a physical therapist and runs coaching clinics around the country. A former minor-league player, first as a Bracknell Bee in England's British Hockey League, then as a Lakeland Ice Warrior in Florida, he is the real thing on a team that for most of the Duke community is, like Sega Hockey, not so real.

That nowhere on campus can one actually see ice hockey played raises the obvious question, "Does it truly exist?" The explanation for this is that Duke's home rink is located twelve miles west of campus in the Triangle Sportsplex in Hillsborough--"nice ice," according to Selman. Further proof of existence can be found on the team's website, although the record of success that it boasts--four third-place finishes in the ACCHL (Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League, a group of seven area club teams) Tournament over the last eight years; one tournament championship in 1997; a league-leading nine wins and one loss on the current season--is so good as to be unbelievable anyway.

But if hockey at a Southern school such as Duke is uniquely challenged--by lack of interest, by temperate climate--it is uniquely supported, too. A donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has made substantial contributions to club hockey over the past three years. When Selman says, "Get your buckets and twigs and hit the ice!" the players put on brand-new helmets and pick up nice new sticks. En route to the rink, they can simultaneously sleep, study, play Sega Hockey, and watch "Fantastic Hockey Fights Volume IV" on a chartered bus with four TVs, two card tables, sixteen cots, and a refrigerator. And with jerseys of the same make and quality as those of the basketball team, they look as good as they play. "I'm a big fan of the sport. My mission is simply to expand it," says the donor. "A club team is a great place to do that. Anybody can play."

Fans of Duke club hockey are few, but they are fervent. They tend to fall in one of two groups: family member or Canadian. Generally speaking, the family members love the players, and the Canadians love hockey. John Thompson, chair of the history department, is one of the Canadians and the team's academic adviser. "I grew up on the frozen plains of Manitoba, but I always rooted for Montreal," he says. "I suppose I was a bad Manitoban."

Thompson, though, is a very good Duke fan. The Duke Hockey website is his homepage. "Have you met Jesse Swanko?" he asks. Swanko is the team president, scheduler, website-content editor, a biology major, and a heavy-metal guitarist. "What a guy, huh? They're some sharp kids. You couldn't say for sure, but I'd bet if you took their combined GPA, it's the highest of any team."

Later that night, Duke beat Georgetown 9-3. It was snowing. "Hockey weather," said Selman. After the game, the goalie, a second-year law student named Clayton Jernigan, shed his pads and hurried back to the bus to resume his reading. "I've got an exam next week, constitutional law." Suddenly, parents materialized outside the locker room, cameras in hand, congratulating with hugs. "With all you have to write about, why a story on the hockey team?" one father asked. He thought about it for a moment and then said, "Well, we are pretty good, aren't we?"