Over the past few decades I have had the pleasure of coaching some great players and teams. This week’s story is about one of my all time favorite players. When I first started coaching Matt he had an incredible skill set and was eager to learn the games mental aspects. Hanner is a coaches dream. A kid that could already play, but was always asking questions trying to get better. I will always hold a special place in my heart for Matt and the entire Fullerton Team. That group of guys might have been the best definition of a real “team” I have ever been lucky enough to be a part of. Matt was one of the more talented players, but was willing to accept any role I would ask of him and did more than his part to lead that team to a National Championship. Matt has since moved on to play Ice at Fullerton and coach the Roller Team. I am so proud of the man he has grown into and what he is still doing for the Fullerton Program. The following is Matt’s Story, in his own words.
My name is Matt Han. I’ve been doin’ my thang for a quarter of a century now. Age is an interesting concept to me. The only certainty is that with age comes experience. Improve yourself every day, physically or mentally, be better today then you were yesterday. My father, David, was born in Korea and moved to America when he was 9 years old – back in the 70’s. My lovely mother, Rhonda, is from a tiny town called Delta, Colorado. Extremely different cultures, but when I was young it was all I knew. Respect your elders. Indulge in moderation. My dad had a grip of little life lessons that he would drill in my mind daily… You could ask my dad any question, any topic, and he will have an educated opinion to share with you. Family is everything.
In Korean tradition, my dad was born as Jang Nam, the first-born male of the family. Jang Nam holds great responsibility, raised to lead by example, to be a role model for the rest of his generation (my dad has a ‘younger’ twin brother, Chris, a younger brother Simon, as well as over a dozen totally awesome cousins, nephews, and nieces). My dad said he didn’t really grasp the enormity of his responsibilities until he became a father and a provider for his family. Jang Nam is considered head of the household, and also has the responsibility to take care of their aging parents – where my dad has been taking care of my Grandmother for 25 years now. I was born with the same responsibilities, taught the values to become a good leader, and maybe one day I will be on par with my Father and his before him.
My parents strapped me up and I was playing hockey by the age of 4. I tried a few other sports like soccer, baseball, and basketball. I was fortunate to have my dad coach most of my teams. Hockey took over as my primary sport when I was in seventh grade. I made the AYSO All Star team, and then I found out that all the real soccer players played club soccer for the Storm. Besides, soccer? Or hockey. HOCKEY. HOCKEY. HOCKEY.
My dad was a great coach. Keep in mind that my pops spent 25 years in the Navy. Always give 100%. Win every battle to the puck, never give up, aim for the back of the net, BACKCHECK, the list goes on, but most importantly, have fun. No matter how pissed I was after a loss, my dad would remind me, in the end, it was just a game. He would have me stick handling in the garage and shooting pucks every day. Practice makes perfect. My friends and I would play until we physically couldn’t. Running around, eventually skating around, playing with a ball between two trash cans, grinding the stick blades down to be little butter knives… I am what my good friend Nick Balaban likes to call, a ‘stick-ball kid’.
My passion for hockey really began to develop during the 2003 Stanley Cup finals. Watching Scott Stevens murder Paul Kariya was devastating. Watching Paul Kariya come back to life to score a clap bomb from hell was legendary!!!! Miracle would come out early in 2004 and I must have watched it 100 times. Since then, most everything I do revolves around hockey.
This is hockey. Gotta love Herb:
I played hockey at San Juan Sports Rink, a cement rink with no roof until I was 16 years old. I had played hockey for Marco Forster Middle School for a couple of seasons, but I had no idea what Narch was. I was a junior at Capistrano Valley High School. I met a dude named Anthony Squirek, a month younger than me, a year below me in school, and insanely talented at hockey. He helped start our program for CVHS, recruiting his coach from the Mission Jr. Habs, Nicholas Gismondi.
Shortly into the high school season, Gismo offered me a spot on the Habs. This was the first time that I got to play for a team that wore matching jerseys, pants, and gloves. Gismo was probably my first hockey coach that wasn’t my dad. When I joined the team, my teammates were very welcoming and it didn’t take long before we were hanging out outside of hockey. The core of the team was built around Anthony Squirek, Jake Mays, Stephen White, Jake Hennings, Andrew Lea, Travis Faught, and me, with Cody Hennings in net. When ice season ended, we also picked up Parker Conant and Darren Nowick.
Gismo is a Michigan native who came to California and happened to stumble upon a struggling MPC Bulls team. When he was asked to coach this team, he agreed, but he wanted to rebuild it his way. He didn’t want to build the team around raw talent alone. Nick was looking for good humans. Good people are hard to come by sometimes, but he had an eye for picking ‘em out. He probably had the Habs for a year before I joined the squad. We were family to him, each of us, a little brother. And for the first time in my career, my hockey team became extended family.
Gismo put a lot of pressure on us, keeping us individually accountable and teaching us to win and lose as a team. We won a plethora of WIHA tournaments from 2007 to 2009. There was a pretty competitive factory league for Bantams in Irvine around that time, housing the Devil Dogs, Anarchy, Capitals, and us. We played decent at narch, never took first, but we did win a couple qualifiers. I heard one of the USA World Junior Champions say in an interview this week, “Champions walk together forever.” Maybe that’s what made us such a good team. I met these guys about ten years ago, they are some of my best friends, and we still play hockey together. Gismo is in and out of California, calling hockey for NBC. We will always be family.
We split up after high school, a few of the boys went off to play Juniors and the rest of us went to college. I was living with Jake Hennings and his family, when Jake got a job coaching for Las Flores Middle School. God BLESS the Hennings family and everything they have done for me. I love you Kev and Donna!! I didn’t have any experience, but Jake asked me to join him on the bench. We coached those kids for two years before they moved on to Tesoro High School, where we were offered to coach for another two years. When they transitioned to Tesoro, Jake graduated from Mission Viejo High School, and I from CVHS. Jake had introduced me to Jim Irwin. Jim was coaching MVHS, Saddleback Community College, and the Mission Raiders. Jake and I ended up joining the Raiders while Anthony and Jake Mays joined Revision. Saddleback won a Junior College National Title in 2009, so I made an easy decision to attend said college.
Jimbo is the man. Genuine. Easy going. The teams he coached were unreal, and there were some true ballers on Saddleback. They called themselves the Gaucho Dynasty and I got to practice with some of the best roller dads in the country. I’m not saying I could hang with them, but playing with them once a week definitely taught me a thing or two about the game. Between playing with them and watching kids my same age enter The Show, I realized that I was pretty garbage at hockey. I went from a medium fish in a small pond to a guppy in the ocean. I learned to love to play up to the competition. I remember one of the first times I was playing for the Raiders, I looked someone off and buried one under the blocker. I went back to the bench when Jim approached me. I was 18 and I’m not gonna lie, I was a little intimidated by my new coach. “Hey,” Jim paused, “Way to look him off Matty, great shot!” as he reached to slap some knucks. I was afraid I should have passed it, but Jim’s acknowledgment gave me a certain confidence that I still carry today.
College roller hockey is arguably the most fun roller hockey there is. I love Narch and all those two period weekend tournaments, but college roller is comprised of 3 stop clock periods, a 16 game season, 7 different regions, 4 different divisions (D1, D2, B, and JC), Regionals, and Nationals. The games are usually long, hard fought battles. Especially when you are playing four games in a day or up to seven or eight at nationals. There is also something about representing your school, banding together with a group of people you may or may not have ever met in your life, setting goals, attaining goals, competing against a nation of schools, competing to be the best. My first two years in the WCRHL were spent in the B division. Our first season went well. We went 0 for 3 against both UCSB and ASU, but beat every other team in the league. We didn’t go to nationals, but we all grew tremendously as individuals, as well as teammates. The next year we would take our revenge on UCSB and ASU by whooping them on multiple occasions throughout the season. There was a point where, half way through our season, our junior college team had dropped out of the league, and our two B teams had to fill in for the games they forfeited, or else we would be ineligible for regionals and nationals. We had a couple wins and some hard fought loses against the D2 teams, but we got smoked by every D1 team. Take a look at the roster that year, over 30 of us were listed. Good times.
I remember sitting in the locker room before the Regional Championship game against UCSB, a team we had beat three times and lost to three times in the last two years. I look over at my teammate, Kyle Sharke, captain of the team and an absolute beaut, who kind of just bursts out, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” and all of a sudden this room of grown ass men turns into a freaking acapella group and in a second we are all singing Bohemian Rhapsody, full lung. Needless to say we went out there and stomped UCSB 9-2 for the regional title. Winning that regional title was something else. We reached a goal that took us two years to attain. We were ranked first in the west headed to nationals in Madison, Wisconsin. In round robin, we tied a powerhouse Michigan State team and beat Central Florida. We had a great start and a juicy three-goal lead on Lindenwood before they came back and beat us 6-3. We seeded off to play West Chester later that night around 8PM, but the rink got wet and our games got pushed back. Later and later, we were finally told to go to bed around 1AM and we would have to show up at the rink to play at 6AM the next morning. We didn’t get much sleep and we played absolutely terrible the next morning. A team we should have beat, took us to overtime, I made an awful turnover, and just like that, our season was over.
During my third year with Saddleback, a small core group of us had stuck together, and Jim granted us leadership roles for the Junior College team. Called up from the minors! Our team was saucey, made up of JT Banard, Jake Hennings, Conor Parker, Dom Zendejas, Ryan Todd, Anthony Squirek, Jon Verstegan, and Angel Rios in net, Cody the backup. As a junior college team, we would play against more D1 teams throughout the regular season. We lost every one of them, except for our one tie against UNLV 5-5 (UNLV went on to take 2nd place at nationals that year). One time, against UCSB, I stole the puck from Travis Noe, moved it to Anthony, who buried it back door. Well I think that pissed Noe off because he went off and they wrecked us 10-2. We went to Nationals in Kerns, Utah, not really knowing what to expect from the four other Junior Colleges in our division (well we had played Santa Barbara CC a few times). We lost to St. Charles in the first game of round robin, took down Santa Barbara CC and Front Range CC, and then took an ass whooping from St. Louis 7-2. I remember the five-goal differential because we were scheduled to play St. Louis in the first round of playoffs the next day. Someone ate their Wheaties that morning because we came out and pumped that same team 5-0. And for the first time in all of our young careers, we found ourselves in a championship game to win a JC National Title. What a grueling game. St. Charles had a 14-man roster with healthy scratches while we sustained an injury in round robin and were playing with 7 guys. An army vs a group of stick ball kids from Southern California. We came out strong, taking a 2-1 lead, but the army would over come. They scored the game winner with 30 seconds left. Such a great season… That’s just the way she goes.
When it came time to transfer from Saddleback, a few colleges were looking mighty appealing. I got accepted by CSUF, Chico, and Long Beach; and got denied by UCSB, SDSU, and SLO. Long Beach had won the D1 National Title in Wisconsin in 2011, but a couple of my friends were talking about starting up a roller hockey team at Cal State Fullerton. Dom Zendejas influenced me to go to CSUF and looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I commuted to CSUF my first year, living in San Juan Capistrano, it was a bitch of a commute, and on Tuesdays, I went to 3 different campuses from 8AM-10PM. I came across an opportunity to revive my childhood hockey rink- the San Juan Sports Rink. I spent a year with Kyle Sharke, tearing down two small rundown rinks to build one NHL sized rink, and forming a new roller hockey club. It had to be the only outdoor rink with tiles and glass. Building it was the toughest labor I had ever endured, maybe aside from the time that Jake, Andrew, and I cut down 1200 Pistachio trees. Anywho, I am proud to say that I helped construct it from the ground up.
SJC Uprising was an interesting program to say the least. We played our first narch winternats and went 0-3-1. Two positives- we didn’t get completely smoked, and we only had one way to go from there. Actually, one of my favorite parts of playing for this team was that we were never favored to win. After winternats, we made a few roster changes and picked up a coach, none other than Chris Connole. We were preparing to play in the MLRH, which, at the time, was a full checking league. Every practice was geared towards buying into Connole’s systems. We weren’t doing drills to go through the motion’s, we were learning how to play roller hockey. His 1-1-2 forecheck is prime. He was able to change my perspective on just about every play I made. The frequent “what the f*** was that” turned into the occasional head nod. In the short time that Connole coached us, he was able to dish us a hell of a lot of hockey knowledge. He helped turn our men’s gold team into a platinum team. That team would develop into So Cal Savage.
I went out for a rip for a narch video @ 2013 winternats in San Jose (0:55 seconds):
Around the same time that I met Connole, I also met Tyler Svoboda. Matt Bockenstette recruited his future brother-in-law T Svo to Head Coach Cal State Fullerton. We were a group of older, semi-experienced roller dads. Tyler had his work cut out for him; nobody really made for a stand out player on our team. We won our first game together and never looked back. D2 was the perfect division for us to develop in. Every shift, Tyler had a little adjustment to make to help us see the game differently, and every game, we grew stronger as a team. Tyler was able to teach me things that I had an idea around, but was never able to piece together. Like when to crash the net, when to support, how to stretch the rink out, man I could go on. We had a couple of agitators in Sam Brown and Kiefer Lupascu, constantly drawing penalties for us. T gave us a disgusting power play- Tristan Gonzalez, Matt Bockenstette, Jeff Brown, and I pounded so much net. One weekend we were headed to Chico for a tournament, 8 dudes piled into one Hummer. We were 8-0 at the time and on the way up, I asked the boys, “If we go undefeated this weekend, who is going to get tattooed with me?” I had been thinking about tattoos for a while. Dom Zendejas asked what I would get and I already knew – the Mighty Ducks logo. Dom gave me the signature, “Not Afraid.” Sure enough, we won all four of our games that Saturday so Dom and I went to go find a tattoo parlor. The only place that was open and not booked was called Eye of Jade. This dude with one wonky eye and one good eye tatted Dom and I up. He was straight out of Duck Dynasty and also made his own moon shine. From that day on, Dom and I became Bash Bros. We had a great run that year, nearly going undefeated (15-0-1), but fell short at nationals once again.
We were eliminated in double OT by Colorado Springs, the team that went on to win the D2 National Title in Fort Myers, FL. Later that night, we were sitting around going over all the good times we had over the season, when Tyler asked all of us what our favorite goal of the season was. He looked over at me first, and I started thinking about a couple goals that I scored that weekend… and then about the ones I should have buried… but I didn’t really have any one goal that stuck out to me. Tyler looked me in the eyes and said, “I can name every single one of your goals this season,” and then he looked at the rest of the team and repeated “every single one of your goals.” I was amazed and dumbfounded. I must’ve scored 30 goals. I didn’t like to reflect on the past or look too far ahead. I only ever thought about the game at hand. The problem was that I didn’t think about my own game enough. From then on, I planned to remember every single game, every shift, and every play.
I was closing in on my last year of college roller hockey eligibility. Out of the 11 of us that were on the team, 10 of us were graduating. We all had one goal in mind, to win a National title.
I had never felt so prepared for a season of hockey in my life. I wanted to play hockey seven days a week, whether I had friends and a goalie to shoot on or not. I joined AIHL with OC Alliance and we had a kick ass season. We started the CSUF season off 8-0 again. It was winter break at school and I headed back home to train with my Dad. He had just started to coach CrossFit and he convinced me to step up and get into shape. I spent the next month working out twice a day, pushing myself beyond my limits. Our next scheduled games were against two D1 teams- UCSB and LBSU. The games were in Santa Barbara, played on an Olympic sized rink. There is a lot of open space playing 4 on 4 on an Olympic sized rink. It was perfect for me, I felt like I could skate for miles. These were long chess match-like games. We played UCSB first, it was a 1-1 game until the third. We took the lead and scored 3 goals in 3 minutes. We won that game 4-2. The next game with LBSU was even more intense. They went up 2-0, but we came back and tied it. Then they went up 4-2, we scored again, and ended the second period 4-3. We tied the game up with less than a minute left in the third to send it to OT. We killed off a huge PK in OT to send it to a shoot out. Tyler looked over at me, words probably didn’t even have to be mentioned, but he goes, “you ready to go score a goal?” I look over at the other goalie, an old teammate of mine, Corey Jones, and then back over at Tyler. Hell. Yes. Our goalie, Nevin Iwatsuru, made the first save, so I skated down to show him some love. He was either very focused our quite easily off in outer space, either way, it further solidified my need to pull through right here. I skated down the rink pretty slowly, not too many stick handles, waiting for Bonesy to make the first move. He laid out and went for the poke, so I gave him the ole toe drag to back hand – and it went elbow-in and across the shelf. Gino. Alright, I’m pumping my own tires pretty hard right here, but it could easily be in my top 5. Nevin made another save, Jeff did some janky, not touching the puck deke, five-hole slayer, and laid the dagger on LBSU. For the first time in NCRHA history, a D2 team had defeated not one, but two D1 teams.
Here’s the shoot out footy:
This momentum carried us through the rest of our season. We won our 2nd WCRHL Regional title together, and personally, I had won 4 Regional Championships in 5 years throughout college.
After five long years of college hockey, I was headed to Aston, PA for my final trip to nationals. The city was unreal. Our team was unreal. Having Tyler on the bench was the icing on the cake. On top of being one of the best in the moment coaches in the game, he always took care of us- sticks, wheels, uni’s- you name it. He made us custom wheels in CSUF colors for our team to rock at nationals. He treated us with so much love and mutual respect, we didn’t even have to think, we were ready to make any sacrifice for each other. We took it to Central Michigan, Slippery Rock, and Rutgers in round robin. These games took discipline. One game at a time. You never know what these East Coast teams are like. Do they have one guy that can tear up the whole league? Some teams don’t have any stand out players, but they also don’t have any weak links. The East Coast also has a lot of ice mamas gone roller (often opposite of the average CA hockey player who started on roller and might venture to ice). The anticipation before each game, nerves building up, it can make or break a hockey player. We had developed into a group of guys ready to rise to the occasion. Our warmups were ridiculous, starting break dancing circles, rapping, hahaha we had so many good vibes in that locker room. Missouri State played us to a one-goal game all the way thru, every shift was raising the stakes. It was beginning to feel a little like the year before against Colorado Springs. But this year was different. We were up 3-2 with about a minute left when I caught them making a bad change, pulling their goalie. I dove and poked home the slowest trickler that barely crossed the goal line, sending us to the Semi’s. We beat Rutgers again and went on to play Virginia Tech for my final shot at winning an NCRHA Title.
Everything in my college career had led up to this moment. One last game. I had family and friends streaming the games live at home, and a few super fans came out to Philly with us. Emily Bocken-Svo is our #1 fan, doing everything and anything that she could for the boys. From studying footage, to cheering us on and pissing off the other fans, her energy was another key factor that helped propel us through the tournament. She wasn’t going to let us drop the ball on this one. The locker room was electrifying. They announced our names, played the anthem, and dropped the puck. They gave us a goal horn and we had the funkiest song bumping after every goal [Ini Kamoze – Here Comes the Hotstepper]. We beat Virginia Tech 6-2, earning CSUF the D2 National Title. Words will never describe all of those years coming together.
Although I felt like I had fulfilled my roller hockey career, I was still studying at CSUF. Ryan Cruz, Tyler Hainey, and Nevin had tried to convince me to play both roller and ice hockey while I was at CSUF, but between work and school, I didn’t have the time. More significantly, I never truly learned how to ice skate. After my college roller hockey eligibility expired, at the fine age of 23, I decided it was time to open my life to the ice hockey world.
Ronnie White was the coach of CSUF ice. I thought Connole ran a tough practice until I stepped onto the ice for the first time. The drills were complicated and the centers are always doing something different from the wingers. I never appreciated roller practice for what it was- warm up the tendys, maybe do some drills, a couple of situational plays, and a scrimmage. Not only was ice practice tougher on the mind and body, but I would trip over the blue line 5 times per practice. I could barely stop and definitely couldn’t transition. I single handedly funded the kangaroo court that year. Come time for the first game of the season, I was one of three healthy scratches. There was no such thing as a healthy scratch in roller, and I was bummed. But I stuck with it and sure enough, the next game I was a fourth line grinder. Playing a college roller hockey game was like going to battle, but every time we suited up for a college ice hockey game, we were going to war. Going to war with my brothers was something I had never experienced before. The dirty hits, the fights, the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. I thought I was passionate about hockey before, but after two years with the ice team, I gained a higher level of insight into my own passion for hockey. I scored my first goal against Long Beach. Our team was injury prone, so while I was becoming a stronger skater, I also found myself moving up the lines. By the time we were headed to Conferences, I had made my way to the first line. The ACHA is filled with goons. I must have fought off a dozen injuries and multiple concussions. By trial and error, I learned how to play heads up hockey.
They documented my first ice goal, but called me Eric Perusse lol:
Ronnie is a great coach. During the summer, Ronnie would invite his brothers, Matt and Andy White, and other guys he had coached over the years. These guys were on yet another level that I had never really seen before. The best way to get better is to play with people that are better than you. After the 2014-15 season, Matt White was playing for the Ontario Reign, an ECHL team that was transitioning with the AHL Manchester Monarchs. That summer, he would skate at our practices and by the end, I’d be ready to pass out and yak at the same time, while he was going back out there to do line touches. Nobody was out there telling him that he had to skate, but you could tell he wanted it. That kind of drive is inspiring. And it goes to show that the people who make it didn’t just stumble to the top. I love this one, “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.” Yeah, luck.
Ice Hockey has to be the best cross training for roller hockey. I had decent hands and a quick release from roller, but I was lacking the hockey sense of an ice hockey player. Always skating with your head up, making the easy pass, moving the puck quickly, and creating open space with more players on the rink. These subtle skills drastically changed my roller hockey game. Ice hockey made roller hockey seem easy. Probably because I wouldn’t get my head taken off in roller the same way it happened in ice. In my second season, I got blind-sided coming around the net without the puck in an ice game at San Diego State. Their barn was packed and going nuts the whole game. I sat out the entire third period for concussion protocol before I snuck back onto the ice to score the silkiest five-hole OT breakaway in my career. Titan Ice Hockey changed my life, and I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to my teammates and coaches. LEGENDS. I gotta name drop one last time: Sean Saligumba, Brandon Booth, Joel ‘Thunder’ Levert, Trevor Cigich, Alec Censullo, Marbles, Castle, Kammer, GOOSE, Yarts, Niely, Jesse Ski, Wada, Hendy, Griff, Mo, Chappy, Mischa Chang, Pace, Crosby, the Marhoffs, Rollins, Petey, Rhymer, Balaban, Papa Yarts, Papa Cortes, Chris Houlihan, and last but not least, Ronnie White. Seriously boys, thank you.
I graduated CSUF with a BA in Accounting in December 2015. Since then, I played narch pro with Twine Time, won MLRH with the OC Cowboys, and we are reigning beer league champions at Artesia ice and Irvine inline. Super sick, I know. I put together a men’s gold team for narch with old Habs teammates as well as CSUF ice/ roller mates. We won the Men’s Gold B bracket at winternats on Monday, losing only our first game of the tournament. Last year, I took over as head coach of CSUF roller hockey. We had a solid first trip to nationals, beating UMass in round robin, the team that went on to win the title. It is tough to coach your peers, but I have gained a lot of experience and I am constantly studying the game so I can become a better coach and mentor. Coaching has changed my perception of the game yet again. You have to watch every player, learn their tendencies, make tough decisions, and it opens up your mind to a different depth of hockey that a regular player might not ever think about. And just when I thought I was starting to become the shark of the ocean, I am reassured that I’m just a simple jellyfish. I’m happy knowing I won’t ever be the shark. I’m not going to The Show. I’m just floating along, doing whatever I can to give back to the sport that has given so much to me.
In my short 25 years of life, I have experienced a lot, on and off the rink. I have learned to live for myself, as well as others, to be healthy and to live happily. My coaches, my teammates, friends, family, my sister Dana, TEAM MOMS, fans/ supporters… I have no idea where I would be without you. Thank You. I have so much love for all y’all. The good times, the bad times, I am grateful for it all. Any hardships endured are designed for us to overcome, to strengthen the soul.
Whether I get to strap up and play, stand on the bench and coach, or sit on the couch and watch my favorite team, I have found my passion in hockey. I am pumped to see the rest of my story unfold.