WCHC, ACHA gearing up for 2023 championship tournaments
There are only four weeks left in the beefed-up West Coast Hockey Conference’s (WCHC) 2022-23 regular season, but the final month of play expects to be quite eventful with teams in three divisions vying for playoff berths to February’s conference championship tournament.
The WCHC features 17 teams this season – six in Tier 1 and 10 in Tier 2 (six in the Tier 2 South Division and four in the Tier 2 North Division).
“The WCHC has been going great with all our new teams,” LMU general manager Tyler Goeckner-Zoeller said. “The revamped Tier 1 – Loyola Marymount University, UCLA, Long Beach State University, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and Grand Canyon University – has seen all great games. With a lot of splits, this tier is still up for grabs.”
GSU held a narrow lead at the holiday break with a 6-1 record and 12 standings points – two points ahead of Arizona State (5-4) in second place and four points ahead of UCLA (4-1) in third place. NAU (3-6) held down fourth place in the standings, followed by LMU (2-4) in fifth place and Long Beach State (2-6) in sixth place.
Each Tier 1 team will play 10 regular season games. Not all the teams had the same number of games under their skates at the holiday break. For instance, both ASU and NAU have just one regular season game remaining while Long Beach State has two games left, GCU has three games left, LMU has four games left and UCLA has five games left.
Thus, the standings could look quite different when the final regular season game is put in the books.
NAU D2 general manager Kris Walsh said his goal in re-joining the WCHC was to get his team back on the same page after finally emerging from the COVID lockdown.
“We were part of that conference years ago and then went independent,” Walsh said. “During COVID, we couldn’t really recruit, so this was a way to re-energize our team. We want to focus on rebuilding to where we were. We’re getting a new ice rink on campus. We want to get back to playing together.”
The IceJacks definitely accomplished some of their goals after sweeping new Division 1 member San Diego State University in a pair of games Sept.30 and Oct. 1 at the Kroc Center Ice Arena. NAU chilled SDSU by a score of 7-6 in the opener of the teams’ non-conference series and held on to tip the Aztecs by a score of 3-2 in the second game.
The teams combined for seven goals in the first period in the series opener with the IceJacks taking a 5-2 lead on two goals by Liam Casey and three assists from Sam Kleinsmith. Casey scored his fourth goal in the second period to extend the NAU lead to 6-3 before SDSU closed the game with a ferocious rally in the the third period to fall short.
IceJacks goaltender Nathaniel Flores stopped 34 of 40 shots to pick up the win.
In the rematch, newcomer Noland Conrad gave the Aztecs an early lead, but the Arizona visitors countered with goals by Ryan Trednor and Kleinsmith to take a 2-1 lead. Marcus Kim tied the game just 21 seconds later for SDSU and Jordan Werner later scored the game-winner on a power play in the third period.
NAU has engaged Loyola Marymount University, Long Beach State, UCLA, ASU and GCU so far in WCHC play, earning a split with LMU and a sweep of Long Beach State.
Casey entered the new year leading the IceJacks in scoring with 23 points on 16 goals and seven assists, followed by Jackson Szmul (10 goals, nine assists) and Kleinsmith (four goals, 15 assists) both with 19 points, and Gabriel Lebron (10 goals, eight assists) and Werner (six goals, 12 assists) both with 18 points.
Flores has made 16 game appearances with a 4.40 goals-against average and a .865 save percentage.
Of the 16 active teams on board this season, 10 will qualify for the WCHC championship tournament Feb. 9-12 hosted by UCLA at the Cube in Santa Clarita. All six Tier 1 teams qualify as do the top three Tier 2 South teams, However, only the Tier 2 North winner does so.
Thus, three T2 South Division teams will not make the playoffs, creating mad dash for third place and the last spot in the group.
Cal-State University Fullerton (7-1) held a two-point lead on Cal-State Northridge (6-0), though the Matadors have two games in hand. The University of Irvine Anteaters (4-4) and UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (4-2) were tied for third, though Santa Barbara has two games in hand.
T2 South teams play 10 regular season games.
Bringing up the rear in the standings are the Chapman Panthers (1-7) and Cal Lutheran University Kingsmen (0-8).
One of the top four teams will not advance to the playoff tournament.
The Tier 2 North seems pretty clear-cut with the Santa Clara University Broncos (5-1) and Santa Rosa Junior College Bears (4-2) leading the group ahead of the UC Davis Aggies (2-3) and UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs (0-5). T2 North teams play nine regular season games.
It would seem that either Santa Clara of Santa Rosa will claim the division’s one playoff berth.
The four T2 teams will meet on Feb. 10 in the first round of the WCHC playoffs, with the two winners advancing to join the six T1 teams in an eight-team field for the remaining three rounds of the playoffs.
The WCHC tournament champion receives an automatic bid to the ACHA Division 2 Western Regional hosted Feb. 23-25 by the University of Utah.
The ACHA D2 nationals are scheduled March 17-21 in Boston, Mass.
Four WCHC teams are listed in the latest release of the top 20 ACHA West rankings and eight among the top 30 teams.
Grand Canyon University (9-9) led WCHC teams in the regional rankings at No. 12, followed by ASU (10-8) at No. 14, UCLA (10-3) at No. 15 and Loyola Marymount (10-6) at No. 18.
NAU (6-12) was ranked at No. 23, followed by Long Beach State (8-9) at No. 24, Northridge (8-4) at No. 26 and Santa Barbara (9-4) at No. 30.
Teams to make to top 40 rankings included Fullerton (11-4) at No. 33 and Irvine (5-5) at No. 36.
The University of Mary (16-3) tops the D2 rankings.
UCLA, ASU and LMU all qualified for last year’s regional tournament with UCLA and LMU both recording tourney-opening wins.
“LMU has had a solid season, but faltered a few times in the first semester,” Goekner-Zoeller said in regard to this year’s team. “With big wins over Colorado, ASU and UCLA, but losses to GCU, SJSU and LBSU, LMU was ranked as high as ninth and currently sits at 18th.”
LMU, which won its first WCHC title last year, is led on the ice by Bryson Martin with 21 points (13 goals, eight assists), Connor Kaczmarek with 19 points (14 goals, five assists) and Gabriel Rodriguez and Spencer Engstrom both with 16 points on five goals and 11 assists.
John Profaci has appeared in 10 games with a 3.02 GAA and 0.921 save percentage.
UC Santa Barbara’s Shawn Catudal topped WCHC scorers at the holiday break with 29 points (19 goals, 10 assists), followed by Northridge’s Geno Norraik with 28 points (16 goals, 12 assists).
Other WCHC top scorers included Northridge’s Isaac Anderson with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists), Santa Barbara’s William Kjenner-Love with 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists), Northridge’s Luc Ghantous with 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists), Long Beach’s Nicolas Santoro with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists), ASU’s Cam O’Connor with 20 points (14 goals, six assists), UCLA’s John Ilvento with 19 points (13 goals, six assists), UCLA’s Duke Fishman with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists), Northridge’s Christian Parks with 18 points (12 goals, six assists) and Long Beach’s Fernando Sansone with 18 points (10 goals, eight assists)
Also on the list were Long Beach’s Buckley Roberts with 17 points (13 goals, four assists), Long Beach’s Jeff Beko with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists), Santa Barbara’s Nishay Chitale with 16 points (12 goals, four assists), ASU’s Ethan Bellettini with 16 points (nine goals, seven assists), Long Beach’s Allen Howland with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists), ASU’s Tyler Billingsly with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists), Santa Barbara’s David Setrakyan with 15 points (10 goals, five assists), Santa Barbara’s Jack Shea (seven goals, eight assists) and Carter Chasson (four goals, 11 assists) both with 15 points , Fullerton’s Jason Andales with 15 points (12 goals, three assists) and GCU’s Aidan Tucker with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists).
UCLA’s Brendan Kim topped WCHC goaltenders with an 8-3 record, 2.18 GAA and a .889 save percentage, followed by Northridge’s Ethan Murphy with a 2.81 GAA and .871 save percentage.
Other top WCHC goaltenders included GCU’s Cam McIntosh with a 3.01 GAA and .894 save percentage, Long Beach’s Brian Parsons with a 3.05 GAA and .927 save percentage, Fullerton’s Kurt Yano with a 3.09 GAA and .890 save percentage, GCU’s Matt Diamond with a 3.50 GAA and .899 save percentage, Santa Barbara’s Ryan Greenberg with a 3.88 GAA and .797 save percentage, and ASU’s Liam Castro with a 4.32 GAA and .898 save percentage.
The Pac-8 conference has announced its eight-team championship tournament will take place Feb. 9-12 hosted by Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash.
The single-elimination tournament will feature four games on the opening day of competition, followed by two semifinals and a championship game. The playoff winner receives an automatic bid to the ACHA Division 2 Western Regionals.
The University of Washington (18-3) topped the conference in the ACHA rankings at No. 11. Next up were Cal-Berkeley (9-6) at No. 21, Eastern Washington (7-15) at No. 28 and San Jose State University (10-8) at No. 29 to crack the top 30 teams.
Cal scoring leaders include Michael Shum with 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists), Jacob Sitak with 19 points (14 goals, five assists), Tyron Storr (nine goal, nine assists) and Brian Faun (eight goals, 10 assists) both with 18 points, and Matthew Podelnyk with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists). Bracing the Bears with a 3.41 GAA and .849 save percentage in 10 games in the net is Max Wiseman.
San Jose State scoring leaders include Donovan Garcia with 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists), Felipe Castellanos with 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) and Robert Arqueno with 19 points (three goals, 16 assists). Nicholas Cheklenis has appeared in 14 games between the pipes for the Spartans with a 3.51 GAA and a .907 save percentage.
San Diego State University ended the 2022 portion of its maiden 2022-23 Division 1 schedule still looking for its first win. The Aztecs carried a 0-11-1 record into their Jan 6-7 weekend matchup against Grand Canyon University after posting a 0-2-1 showing at the Canisius tournament in Buffalo, N.Y. Oct 28-30 and a 0-3 record at the Vegas Showcase Dec. 8-10.
SDSU nearly pulled off its history-making first D1 victory at the Canisius tournament after falling, 3-2, to George Mason University in overtime. The Aztecs rallied from a 2-0 deficit on goals by Blake Reed and Michael Eng to force overtime. But the game ended at 3:52 of the first overtime period when Matthew Price scored to give the Patriots the sudden victory.
SDSU also played an outdoor game at the tournament, dropping a 5-3 decision to West Chester University. The Aztecs also lost, 5-0, to Villanova.
SDSU faced off the trio of games at the Vegas Showcase with a 16-0 loss to the host Skatin’ Rebels, then dropped a 7-1 decision to the University of Oregon, also playing its first Division 1 ACHA season, then closed out the event with a 7-4 loss to Canisius College.
SDSU is the only ACHA Division 1 men’s team in California.
“It was a great experience with wonderful venues and great initial exposure to colleges on the East Coast to San Diego State,” SDSU head coach Phil Bateman explained in regard to the trip to upstate New York. “We played very well but once again were undermanned for the weekend. For all three games, we at times were the better team, especially in the first game. But managing the game, and taking care of the puck late is part of the maturation of a first-year team.”
Team captain Michael Pellegrino topped the Aztecs in scoring at the holiday break with 10 assists, followed by Reed with six goals and two assists and Gavin O’Bryan with four goals and four assists.
The Aztecs, playing as an independent, remained winless after being swept in the series against the Antelopes by identical scores of 8-2 to start the new year. Luke Busher and Hunter Schmitz both registered two goals and one assist while Ryan Nolan scored twice in the opener to lead GCU. Busher recorded four assists in the second game while Schmitz had a hat trick .
SDSU was set to host the University of Utah (8-7-1) Jan. 13-14 at the Kroc Center Ice Arena to continue a new year’s homestand.
UNLV, which posted its best-ever finish with a 26-4-1 record and trip to the ACHA D1 Final Four at last year’s national championship tournament in St. Louis, is off to an 11-6 start this season with a No. 4 ranking in western region.
The University of Arizona (10-4-3) was ranked at No. 13, followed by Arizona State (8-9-1) at No. 19 and the University of Utah (8-7-1) at No. 21.
Cole Wyatt led the Skatin’ Rebels with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists), followed by Nicolas Flanders with 16 points (six goals, 10 assists), Bradley Golant with 15 points (seven goals, eight assists), Azzaro Tinling (seven goals, seven assists) and Robert McCollum (three goals, 11 assists) both with 14 points, and Alec Johnson with 13 points (eight goals, five assists).
UNLV has found success behind three goaltenders: Zach Wickson (2.33 GAA, .911 save percentage) with a 5-1 record, Landon Pavilsin (2.60 GAA, .912 save percentage) with a 4-1 record, and Vince Benedetto (1.50 GAA, .936 save percentage) with a 2-0 record.
The Skatin’ Rebels rumbled past SDSU by a 16-0 score at the Vegas Showcase with a 78-9 advantage in shots (31-3 in the first period and 27-2 in the second period). Cole Wyatt paced UNLV with one goal and five assists in the game while Jaxsen Wyatt tacked on one goal and four assists.
GCU entered the new year paced in scoring by Jacob Cummings with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists), followed by Schmitz with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) and Dylan Dent with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists). Riley Morgan paced the Lopes between the pipes with a 5-6 record, 3.77 GAA and a .883 save percentage.
ASU’s scoring leaders included Brendan Studioso with 25 points (13 goals. 12 assists), Elliot Plourde with 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists), Clayton Lackey with 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) and Conner Tilmon with 15 points (10 goals, five assists). The Sun Devils were braced by three goaltenders with strong numbers: Erik Garber (5-5, 3.27 GAA, .905 save percentage), Dawson Rodin (3-3, 2.95 GAA, .923 save percentage) and Blake Bella (2-1, 1,81 GAA, .923 save percentage).
Arizona’s leaders included Jesse Lowell with 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) and Dylan Walker with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists). Nolan Bivolcic owned a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .926 save percentage to lead the Wildcats.
Arizona, Arizona State, Grand Canyon, UNLV and Utah comprise the West Division in the 10-team Western Collegiate Hockey League (WCHL).
Minot State (13-0) topped the ACHA D1 rankings at the holiday break.
The ACHA D1 finals will also be held in the Greater Boston area March 16-21 as part of all five ACHA divisions playing championship games under one roof at the New England Sports Center, located in Marlborough, Mass.
The Division 3 men’s finals are scheduled March 16-21 while both the Division 1 and Division 2 women’s finals are scheduled March 16-20.
The New England Sports Center is a two-story 220,000-square-foot building that houses eight ice skating surfaces as well as two miniature ice surfaces.
“The ACHA established our current championship model — having all five divisions host their championships in one location ‐- but we have never been able to have all our teams, games and fans be in the same building at the same time,” ACHA executive director Craig Barnett said. “The New England Sports Center will provide this opportunity. I am eager for our teams and fans to experience this type of exciting atmosphere in a championship setting.”
NAU, SDSU photos/Phillip Brents
— Phillip Brents
(January 12, 2023)