Stopping opponents from scoring is the easy part of senior Ryan Krametbauer's job as the UNLV hockey team's top defender. His duties as the club team's captain and president are far more daunting: scheduling opponents, organizing travel arrangements, creating game programs, and recruiting volunteers to work home games. It's not usual stuff for athletes on winning teams.
Unlike official NCAA teams, sports clubs like hockey can't offer scholarships or support staff to help with logistics. The team raises money to keep out-of-pocket costs low, but player dues can run into the thousands of dollars. And the coaches receive a modest stipend at best.
What club teams lack financially is made up in leadership possibilities and an outlet for athletic competition, Krametbauer says. "I have learned so much from being exposed to the business side of the sport," the political science honors student says. "I worked with an accountant to file 501c(3) paperwork to become a nonprofit organization. I don't know too many college students who know how to file for nonprofit status with the IRS. You can't put a price on that kind of experience."
Hard Work Paying Dividends
The hockey club finished the season 25-4, the team's best record since forming four years ago. The Rebels advanced to the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 2 West Regional but lost 3-2 in the first round to Eastern Washington University.
Krametbauer and alternate captain Anthony Greener attribute this year's success to coach Rob Pallin, who played at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and professionally in Europe.
Pallin took over midway through the 2006-07 season after a group of players, including Krametbauer, asked him to be the head coach. The team finished 2008 with a 13-13-4 record, and then Pallin focused on recruiting. He looks for character and speed, in that order. "Character kids will help you weather the storm. They have a solid foundation. Character is more important than talent," he says.
With no scholarships to offer, Pallin needs players disciplined enough to stay on top of classwork and late-night practices. Ice time is hard to come by, so the practices often start at 9:30 p.m. at the ice arena at the Fiesta Rancho Casino, where Pallin is rink manager.
He keeps players driven by not guaranteeing roster spots from one year to the next. "Even if you were the points leader the previous year, you have to earn your way onto the team each fall during tryouts," Greener says.
"It was very difficult when I had to cut seven kids from last year's team," says Pallin, "but it had to be done in order for us to get better."
Now with a winning reputation, recruiting is easier, and Pallin has found a lot of luck locally. "Now kids call me and ask to come play at UNLV," Pallin says. "That's a good barometer of how far our program has come."
Krametbauer and Greener both grew up in Las Vegas and ditched the baseball bat for a hockey stick before the age of 10. Pallin coached both as teenagers in youth sports.
Krametbauer is set to graduate in May and Greener in December -- something Greener didn't expect to happen until the hockey team came along. He had attended UNLV for a semester but thought college wasn't for him. After Krametbauer asked him to come play for the fledgling team, Greener gave it a second shot. The team, the business management major says, gave him the focus he needed to be both a student and an athlete.