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Saddleback College returns to WCRHL, wins national title

 

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Twelve teams from the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) competed at the 2018 National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) national championship tournament April 11-15 in Fargo, N.D.

The Junior College Division championship game turned out to be an all-California matchup as Saddleback College edged West Valley College, last year’s national champion, 3-2, in comeback fashion to claim bragging rights to this year’s national championship title.

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“It was a great weekend in Fargo,” explained Saddleback club president George Godinez, who earned the first star award in the national championship game with a hat trick.

“West Valley and our school were the strongest teams in the JC Division. We did not want to go home early empty-handed.”

The Gauchos now have a national championship banner to bear witness to the team’s successful return to active status following a three-year hiatus.

“The Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League is excited and proud to have the last two Junior College national champions,” WCRHL director and NCRHA executive director Brennan Edwards stated.

The two California teams were the favorites coming into the tournament, so it was no surprise when they met in the title game.

West Valley took a 2-0 lead on a pair of power-play goals by Matt Swanson before Saddleback began to chip away, getting two goals from Godinez in the second period and the game-winner from Godinez on a power play in the third period.

“During the national anthem, you could see the differences on the rosters, with Saddleback having about twice as many players,” Edwards noted. “This proved to be the difference down the stretch as a short bench can only last so long.”

“Unfortunately, we came to Fargo with only seven skaters as one of our players could not make it last minute,” Swanson added. “Saddleback is a fast team and we just could not make it happen in the third period. It was a good game with lots of battles, but we came up short.”

Five teams competed in this year’s JC Division in Fargo.

West Valley edged Saddleback 3-2 in overtime to finish first in the round-robin standings with a 4-0 record while Saddleback finished second with a 3-0-0-1 record.

In the semifinals, Saddleback defeated third-seeded Henry Ford College from Dearborn, Mich., 6-2, while West Valley eliminated fourth-seeded St. Louis Community College 8-1.

The championship game matchup was the fourth meeting between the WCRHL rivals on the season. Three of the four games were decided by one goal, including two in overtime.

Godinez’s second goal, a power-play marker set up by Jared Smer and Ruslan Patterson, came with five seconds to play in the second period.

Riley Hummitsch and Jackson Faught drew the assists on what proved to be the game-winning goal with just under four minutes to play in the game.

Leks Zendejas stopped 19 of 21 shots to post the win between the pipes.

The Vikings had scored a pair of power-play goals in tipping Saddleback in overtime in the round-robin.

“Both West Valley and our team played a very calm and possession game,” Godinez assessed. “I think penalties are what killed both of the schools. They capitalized on two power-play goals (in the round-robin) and so did we (in the final).

“Overall, it was a fast, hard-fought, patient game and I just happened to be in the right position to score the goals for my team. It was a very surreal moment when the clock was winding down and the buzzer went off.”

Faught led Saddleback (16-5-0-1 overall) in season scoring with 32 points, followed by Hummitsch (28 points), Godinez (23 points), Patterson (22 points) and Spencer Gaalaas (21 points).

Joseph Kubani led West Valley (13-6-0-3 overall) in season scoring with 56 points, followed by Swanson (55 points).

— Phillip Brents

(June 27, 2018)