WCHC riding momentum with trio of new schools for ’18-19 season
The West Coast Hockey Conference (WCHC) has been one of the top ACHA Division II college hockey conferences for nearly a decade, and with the 2018-19 season well underway, it is perhaps stronger than it has ever been.
The conference has eight member teams this season for the first time after having added UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and University of San Diego last spring to a lineup that already included charter members Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and Loyola Marymount University as well as Cal State Northridge and Chapman University.
“We’re always trying to get good teams to join our conference, and it’s all about growing the game,” said LMU general manager Tyler Goeckner-Zoeller, who helped start the LMU program back in 2006. “We have some established teams and some newer teams that are trying to get their feet under them. California hockey is getting better and better every year.”
J.P. Gale is the co-coach and general manager of the two-time defending conference champions at Cal State Northridge and has seen the program grow by leaps and bounds since he started with the Matadors as a student-athlete in 2005. He said the WCHC is improving yearly.
In the first rankings of the 2018-19 season released earlier this month, CSUN came in at No. 6 in the West Region – the highest ranking of any California school.
“It’s not any surprise that teams want to be part of our conference,” Gale said. “I think it’s the best-run conference on the West Coast, and the rankings and the success of teams coming from the WCHC shows how strong it is.
“It’s great that we have been able to expand to UCSB and the two schools in San Diego. Now, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, kids are able to play hockey pretty affordably compared to in some other places. They get to stay local, play some good teams and develop some really great cross-town rivalries in doing so.”
The strength of the conference is clearly evident in its postseason track record. Since its founding in 2010, the WCHC has sent a team to the ACHA Division 2 West Regional Tournament almost every year and has sent five teams to the Division 2 National Tournament. With eight teams for the first time this year, the WCHC’s winner will receive an automatic bid to regionals.
“It was a goal of ours to get to eight teams and get that automatic bid, because it can be hard to get the recognition here in California that you might get in Utah or Colorado,” Goeckner-Zoeller said. “We’ve had some good teams in the last few years that barely missed getting to regionals, and we thought they probably deserved to go.”
Goeckner-Zoeller said he has always had confidence in the strength of the WCHC, and that continues to this day.
“I feel like the top teams in California have always come from our conference,” he said.
The WCHC has also fostered collaboration amongst its teams, and during the last two summers has hosted a recruiting camp in Lakewood for high school student-athletes hoping to continue playing hockey in college and looking to find the right academic fit from the conference’s diverse group of schools. They have had approximately 30 players attend each camp.
“A lot of those kids have been funneled to one of our schools,” Goeckner-Zoeller said. “We think it’s great because kids from all different academic and financial backgrounds can play some of the best college hockey in California. Kids and their parents get to meet the coaches and get a good sense of how each program is run and figure out which program fits them the best.
“At this level, it’s all about getting a good education, and the bonus is that you get to play some great hockey for four years.”
— Greg Ball
(Nov. 23, 2018)