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SDSU finishes ’15-16 season with run to ACHA D2 regionals

 

SDSU-MegWood

When Brandon Neveu arrived at San Diego State University three years ago, it ended up being one of the biggest changes of his life.

Neveu had lived his whole life in the small town of Visalia. His high school graduating class had 35 people.

In stepping onto the university’s campus, Neveu had left the small pond, joining a pool of over 30,000 students in his new home. It wasn’t going to feel like home, however, until he found a new sense of belonging.

After dedicating himself exclusively to academics as a freshman, Neveu decided to try out for the Aztecs hockey team two years ago. He made it, and all of a sudden, family didn’t seem so far away.

“When I started playing hockey, that really helped out,” Neveu said. “Having a close group of friends that are big in number, they’re also teammates. It definitely helped my adjustment.”

Neveu’s story is just one in a recurring pattern. To a man, the Aztecs have made successful adjustments, and it resulted in the team’s first regionals berth since 2013.

It began with a coaching change.

Ted Powers replaced Ryan Weston as head coach. He barely had time to set up shop before hockey activities were underway. He arrived on a Friday, and San Diego State held its first practice the following Monday.

“It was really a crash course,” Powers said of getting started with the program. “It was a lot of learning really fast. I didn’t have any assistants. It was real for a couple of weeks.”

All the help he needed was already inside the organization. A secondary benefit of club sports is that it gives the students in the program an opportunity to learn how to run a team. The Aztecs successfully handled operations to help their coach settle in.

“It was great that I didn’t have to come in and learn how to deal with travel and scheduling teams,” Powers said. “It took a couple of months to figure out how the whole thing works, where the money goes.

“To have that in place, it would have been a train wreck if I had to come in and figure out how to do it. Kudos to them. They crushed it.”

The next challenge presented itself at the end of the fall semester. The Aztecs were carrying a four-game losing streak after being swept in back-to-backs by UNLV and Northern Arizona.

To make matters worse, they had just played their final game with captain Cody Nieuwenhuis.

San Diego State began the final month of play ranked 17th in the ACHA Division 2 West Region. A regionals berth looked like a longshot at that moment, prompting forward Anthony Mata to say, at the time, that the team had to run the table.

While the Aztecs did not go undefeated the rest of the way, their turnaround began immediately when play resumed on Jan. 15. Neveu said the team was forced to band together with the loss of Nieuwenhuis’ leadership.

“The team kind of came together as a whole and we started working really hard,” he said. “We went to Texas the weekend after that, and we put on a good showing. We beat Texas A & M and the University of Texas. Those games helped propel us in the rankings.”

The Aztecs gained further confidence in a pair of one-goal losses on the road to ASU Maroon. When the teams hooked up again in San Diego two weeks later, the Aztecs took it to the fifth-ranked Sun Devils in completing the two-game sweep.

“When we were at ASU, we only had like 12 guys,” Powers said. “I just kept saying, we could have beat them if we had a couple more guys. To beat them here, I wasn’t surprised, but it definitely played a huge role in getting us to regionals.”

SDSU fell to UNLV 5-1 in the first round of the regional tournament.

Photo/Meg Wood

— Andrew Turner