ACHA Division II embracing California teams
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Collegiate club ice hockey continues to grow at the ACHA Division II level in California, and continues to grow in stature as well.
Three California-based teams managed to crack the top 20 final rankings in the West Region in 2019-20.
West Coast Hockey Conference (WCHC) champion CSU Northridge (CSUN) finished at No. 11, followed by No. 19 San Diego State University (SDSU) and No. 20 Cal-Berkeley.
Northridge represented the WCHC as an automatic qualifier at the West Region tournament Feb. 27-29 in Boise, Idaho.
Twenty-one California colleges fielded teams at the ACHA Division II level this past season. Twenty teams were spread across three conferences with one independent.
The WCHC included 10 members in 2019-20: Northridge, Loyola Marymount University (LMU), Long Beach State, CSU Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara in Tier 1 and the University of San Diego (USD), UC Irvine, Chapman College, UC San Diego and CSU Bakersfield in Tier 2.
Northridge is the conference’s four-time defending champion,
The Pac-8 includes five member California schools: Cal-Berkeley, San Diego State University (SDSU), San Jose State University (SJSU), UC Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC).
All five schools are included in the Pac-8 South Division along with Arizona State University. Cal-Berkeley has won the last two regular season division titles.
The Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association (PCHA) is comprised of five member schools: Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Clara University, Stanford University, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz.
Santa Rosa defeated Santa Clara to capture the 2020 Adams Cup championship trophy.
California Lutheran University competed as an independent in 2019-20 but will join the WCHC in 2020-21.
The ACHA Division I tier is represented by four schools in the westernmost United States: Arizona State, University of Arizona, Grand Canyon University and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV).
The ACHA Division III tier no longer has any California membership.
“There’s good competition between the California schools,” explained SDSU head coach Phil Bateman, whose Aztecs recorded a milestone in 2019-20 with the program’s first 20-win season. “We’ve developed rivalries with some teams, and building new rivalries as time goes on.”
Northridge won its fourth consecutive WCHC conference championship by defeating Loyola Marymount, 4-2, to cap play in this year’s conference tournament, which took place Feb. 8-9 in Anaheim.
The Matadors raced out to a 3-0 first period lead but the game grew increasingly close over the final two periods, with LMU owning a two-man power play late in the game. However, the Lions were unable to crack the armor of CSUN goaltender Vincent Sepe, who closed the door on LMU’s season with 36 saves on 38 shots.
Sepe improved to 12-0-1-1 on the season with the clutch victory.
The Matadors received goals from Dante Thorn, Geno Norraik, Christian Parks and Quentin Abaya. Brian Clem scored both LMU goals.
Lions goaltender Jason Footlick stopped 36 of 40 shots in the loss.
The 2020 WCHC championship tournament featured seven teams. The top five teams in the Tier 1 division qualified, plus two teams from the Tier 2 division.
Tier 1 qualifiers included top-seeded Northridge, second-seeded LMU, third-seeded Long Beach State, fourth-seeded Fullerton and fifth-seeded Santa Barbara.
The USD Toreros qualified as the Tier 2 regular season champion and earned the No. 6 seed while Chapman University, the third-place team in the Tier 2 standings, qualified as the tournament host.
Northridge received a bye in the opening round while six teams met in quarterfinal elimination games.
Loyola Marymount defeated Chapman, 11-0 while Fullerton edged Santa Barbara 6-4 The sixth-seeded Toreros pulled off the lone upset in the tournament by defeating third-seeded Long Beach State 4-3.
The three quarterfinal winners joined CSUN in the semifinals.
The Matadors ended USD’s record-breaking season with a 10-2 victory while LMU slipped past Fullerton, 5-2, to advance to the championship game.
Norraik (two goals, three assists), Abaya (two goals, two assists) and Zach Carnes (three goals) paced victorious Northridge in scoring in the semifinal win over the Toreros while Clem and teammate Austin Billings both collected two goals and one assist in the semifinal win over the Titans.
The Matadors (22-1-2-1) put a cap on an otherwise stellar season with a 5-4 overtime loss to 10th-ranked East Texas Baptist University at the ensuing regional tournament.
LMU finished with a 17-9-1 record and will be returning the majority of its lineup for another run at the WCHC title in 2020-21.
A highlight for the Lions was a 5-4 win over 13th-ranked University of Northern Colorado in their final regular season game.
Northridge became only the third team in the 10-year history of the WCHC to finish with a perfect regular season conference record at 8-0.
LMU finished runner-up in the regular season standings with a 4-3-1 conference record, followed by Long Beach State at 4-4. Fullerton and Santa Barbara both finished at 2-6.
USD was perfect against its Tier 2 foes with an undefeated 8-0 mark, followed by UC Irvine at 5-2-1 in second place, Chapman and UC San Diego both at 3-4-1 and Bakersfield at 1-6-1 in fifth place.
Norraik led Northridge in season scoring with 24 goals and 52 points in 24 games, followed by Grayson Szumilas with 23 goals and 48 points in 25 games. Sepe played the bulk of minutes between the pipes with a 12-1-1 record, 2.58 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
CSUN led the conference with four All-WCHC selections.
Norraik (forward) and Carnes (defenseman) joined Sepe (goaltender) on the All-WCHC First Team while Northridge defenseman Nik Giers was named to the All-WCHC Second Team.
Clem, Fullerton forward James Maloney and LMU defenseman Cameron Andrade rounded out the All-WCHC First Team honor roll.
Clem collected 21 goals and 34 points while Maloney chalked up 21 goals and 46 points for Fullerton (8-10-0). Andrade contributed six goals and 21 points from the blue line.
All-conference second team selections also included UC Santa Barbara forward Justin Driffill, Long Beach State’s Nicholas Schrepfer, Fullerton’s Dylan Kammer, USD’s Basi Morand and Footlick.
Morand paced the Toreros (10-9) with 49 points on 20 goals and 29 assists in 18 games as USD set a club record for wins after finishing just 1-13 in its start-up season in 2018-19.
Driffill led the Gauchos (11-8-0) with 18 goals and 40 points while Schrepfer paced Long Beach (7-15-1) with 21 goals and 35 points. Kammer racked up 10 goals and 29 points while Footlick posted a 13-6 -1 record with a 3.00 GAA and .908 save percentage.
Northridge was the only California team to qualify for the ACHA Division II West Region tournament.
“The tiers worked out very well, a lot more closer games and no more major blowouts,” Loyola Marymount general manager Tyler Goeckner-Zoeller said. “Though no Tier 2 team beat a Tier1 team (in the regular season), they seem well structured. By finishing first, USD has the option to move up to Tier 1 next season.”
Three California-based teams qualified for this year’s PAC-8 playoffs: Cal-Berkeley as the top finisher in the South Division standings with an 11-3 conference record, SDSU as the third-place finisher in the division with an 8-5-1 conference record and SJSU as the fourth-place finisher in the division with a 7-7 conference record.
The eight-team tournament featured the top four finishers in both the North Division and South Division.
North Division playoff qualifiers included the University of Oregon (11-3 in conference), Boise State University (9-3-2 in conference), Eastern Washington University (8-5-1 in conference) and Western Washington University (4-10 in conference).
ASU (10-2-2 in conference) finished second in the South Division standings to qualify.
Non-playoff qualifiers from the South Division included UCLA (3-11 in conference) and USC (0-14 in conference) and Washington State (4-10) and University of Washington (3-11) in the North Division.
Teams paired off in quarterfinal matches based on division finish in the opening round, with winners advancing to semifinal games and then the championship game.
The tournament proved to be very competitive.
Twentieth-ranked Cal-Berkeley (14-10) defeated Western Washington University, 4-1, in the tournament quarterfinals while 16th-ranked Arizona State (19-9-1-3) shut out Eastern Washington 4-0.
Boise State, ranked 12th among ACHA Division II West Region teams, defeated 19th-ranked San Diego State, 3-1, in a quarterfinal contest while fifth-ranked Oregon (22-5-0-1) slipped past San Jose State, 9-5, in another tournament opener.
The scores got even closer as the field narrowed. Oregon needed a 4-3 overtime win to slip past ASU in the semifinals while Boise State ended the season for the Golden Bears with a 4-1 win after “60 minutes of desperate, hard fought hockey,” according to Cal freshman forward Nolan McMahon.
Oregon shut out Boise State, 3-0, in the championship game.
Season scoring leader Nicholas Vereen (14 goals, 34 points) led San Jose State (12-11-1) on the ice in the loss to Oregon with four points (one goal, three assists).
SDSU finished an otherwise record-breaking season with a final 20-10-0-1 record.
Five PAC-8 teams finished in the final top 20 ACHA Division II West Region rankings: Oregon, Boise State, ASU, SDSU and Cal-Berkeley.
Oregon and Boise State represented the conference at the regional tournament. Boise State ended its season with a 5-4 overtime loss to ninth-ranked Northern Arizona University while Oregon was doubled up, 6-3, by eighth-ranked Utah State.
The Bears went into the Pac-8 championship tournament riding a six-game winning streak following sweeps against UCLA, Eastern Washington and San Jose State in their final three regular season series.
Rookies provided the offensive spark down the stretch by accounting for 50 percent of the team’s goals in its final eight games. Freshmen Brian Faun (seven goals, 20 points), McMahon (nine goals, 13 points) and Jake Sitak (five goals, nine points) helped buttress the team’s late offensive showing.
The Bears’ resurgence coincided with the midseason addition of junior transfer David Adams (six goals, nine points), whose physical presence on the blue line bolstered the team defensively.
Veteran Delfino Varela (eight goals, 22 points) led Cal-Berkeley in season scoring while fellow forward Gabriel Giammarco (10 goals, 20 points) finished in a tie with Faun for runner-up honors.
Ronald Paulos finished fourth in team scoring with 10 goals and 18 points.
The team’s defensive unit, anchored by Matt Chorlian (two goals, nine points) and Jeffrey Chen (six goals, 12 points) held opponents to two or fewer goals 11 times during the season.
Veteran goaltenders Ethan Crick (7-3-0) and Sami Morse (5-5) both appeared in 10 games to provide stability between the pipes. Morse posted a 2.40 GAA and .906 save percentage while Crick recorded a 2.68 GAA and .894 save percentage.
“The Bears have a bright future and a lot to look forward to with three more seasons of this rookie class,” McMahon offered.
ACHA executive director Craig Barnett said the intent is to have a regular start to the 2020-21 season for all members that are permitted by their respective colleges and universities to compete this fall.
“It is the responsibility of each ACHA team to make sure they are in compliance with their respective institution, state and local guidelines to resume competition,” Barnett said. “The ACHA’s primary concern is the well-being and best interests of our student-athletes, coaches and fans, so we want to make sure that all ACHA teams meet these requirements and are eligible to participate during the 2020-21 season.
“The ACHA continues to monitor college and university plans on returning to campus and sports as well as the lead of several organizations such as the CDC, NCAA and USA Hockey regarding the COVID-19 situation. We are also working on several contingency plans to implement if need be due to the fluidity of these uncertain times.”
Barnett said the ACHA anticipates its annual team declaration and registration process to begin in July.
— Phillip Brents
(June 19, 2020)