UCSB was one of 19 universities that descended upon the California Roller Hockey Center in Upland this weekend to kickoff the 2003-04 season. Every team had just one goal in mind: an eventual berth to the national championship tournament in April at the Anaheim Hockey Club.

The Gauchos’ roller hockey team made a promising start toward that goal, going 2-1 in league play before a disappointing loss in an exhibition game against Colorado State.

“This is the most talented I’ve seen us in my four years here. We’re already so far ahead of where we were last year – we worked hard in the offseason, and the chemistry that we started to build on last year is really starting to show. All we need now is some fine tuning,” senior captain Greg Franks said.

Santa Barbara began the tournament with a 5-3 win over Monterey Peninsula College. Though on paper it was a close game, the Gauchos dominated play with excellent puck control and a smothering defense.

Next up was Chapman University, a team that frustrated UCSB last season with two late game comeback wins. The frustration would continue as Chapman pulled off a heartbreaking win in a game that saw a nail-biting series of offensive exchanges. Chapman came out firing and posted an early first goal with Santa Barbara answering right back. A seesaw battle ensued and with the team trailing 6-7 late in the third period junior Greg Snelling scored the tying goal off a pass from Franks. Chapman took the lead with 45 seconds to play and scored an empty netter after UCSB pulled freshman goalie Sean Seal in a last ditch attempt to snag tie.

“It was hard to get in the flow of things with so many outside shots and choppy bounces. It was a frustrating game for a goalie,” said Seal.

Seal played solidly in the first two games of his career, with freshman Jason Green minding the net for the last two. Santa Barbara would go on to pound UC Berkeley 7-2, taking its frustrations out on the Golden Bears with relentless offensive surges and solid defense.

Visiting Colorado State was perhaps the Gauchos’ toughest opponent this weekend. UCSB played the larger Rams in a rough, physical matchup that saw more than its fair share of penalties. The Rams scored first, and after UCSB tied it up late in the first, Colorado State would open the game up with a 3-1 lead. Santa Barbara bounced back with another goal, and it looked as if they had momentum after the Rams gave them a two man advantage after some rough play in front of the net. CSU would permanently take control of the game with three straight shorthanded goals and a powerplay goal to go into the third. Santa Barbara fought back to score two more goals only to eventually lose 7-4.

“It was a tough battle. Colorado State is a good team, and we’ll probably see them again at nationals. We matched our puck control against their size, and we dominated a lot of the game. Without those shorthanded goals we were right in there,” said junior assistant captain Derek Kokubun.

The Gauchos will play its next tournament on Oct. 25 in Sonora, Calif., where they will face conference rival Cal Poly along with UC Davis, Chico State and Moorpark College.