WCRHL faces off 2021-22 roller hockey season with solid results, optimism on horizon
The Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) has faced off its 2021-22 season with two regular season events, adding to a preseason event that took place in early October.
If the results of the first semester are any indicator, several teams already appear to be skating in midseason form despite being off the floor for 18 months because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Arizona State University is undefeated among Division I teams with an 8-0 record while Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has opened up a lead among Division II teams with a 6-3 record.
The University of Arizona and UCLA top the Division III standings with identical 5-3 records while a battle of Arizona is shaping up among the league’s Division IV developmental squads with the University of Arizona out to a 7-1 start ahead of Arizona State’s 6-2 mark.
West Valley College leads the Junior College Division with a 5-2-0-1 record.
Sixteen teams were active in the first semester with the possibility of more teams joining regular season competition for the second semester.
“All went well, and teams were super excited to start playing again,” WCHL director Brennan Edwards said. “It has been a long time since these teams have played collegiate roller hockey, and a lot of teams have graduated decent amounts of players, graduated leadership, and the remaining players from two years ago are trying their best to make it happen, to be organized.
“The schools have been supportive as well. Arizona State is still super strong and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Northern Arizona University look like they haven’t missed a beat. We are glad in the WCRHL to have so many teams return after all this time off. This is still a rebuilding year for the league and many clubs, so we hope to bring more teams in next season. We can even add teams in the second semester of this season, if they are out there. Saddleback is a possibility, being run by the third Mooney brother, Keagan Mooney. Kyle and Kevin are both UCSB alums.”
Early season standings spotlighted ASU at 8-0 and CSU Fullerton at 4-5 in Division I; Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at 6-3, Northern Arizona University at 2-3 and Chico State at 0-8 in Division II; University of Arizona and UCLA both at 5-3, UC Santa Barbara at 3-5, Cal Poly Pomona at 2-2 and San Jose State at 0-8 in Division III; University of Arizona at 7-1; Arizona State at 6-2, Fullerton at 4-3-0-1, Cal Poly SLO at 1-7 and Cal Poly Pomona at 0-3 in Division IV.
ASU’s Division I and Division IV teams are three-time defending conference champions.
The 2021-22 season jump-started with a preseason event Oct. 9 at The Rinks-Irvine Inline.
The WCRHL held its regular-season kickoff event Oct. 23-24, also at Irvine Inline. All active teams participated. Games included both divisional and non-divisional matchups.
ASU’s Division I team rolled to a 4-0 start with victories over Northern Arizona University (5-3 in a non-divisional matchup), CSU Fullerton (9-0 in a divisional matchup), Cal Poly SLO (6-1 in a Division I versus Division II pairing) and West Valley (4-3 in overtime in another non-divisional matchup).
Chase Steele keyed the Sun Devils’ strong start with eight goals and 13 points in the four games while teammates Andrew Hite and Hayden Knight both logged seven points. Lane Hartwell braced ASU between the pipes with a solid 1.74 GAA, four wins and a .885 save percentage.
Cal Poly SLO finished 3-1 at the season opening event with wins over Fullerton’s Division I team (5-4), University of Arizona’s Division III team (7-2) and Northern Arizona (6-3) in a divisional contest.
Nathan Katzaroff led Cal Poly with five goals and seven points
UC Santa Barbara and the University of Arizona both finished 3-1 at the Irvine kickoff event while Cal Poly Pomona finished 2-2.
UC Santa Barbara’s lone loss came against West Valley by a 9-3 score in a non-divisional game while the Gauchos recorded divisional victories against San Jose State (19-2) and UCLA (5-4). UC Santa Barbara also skated past Cal Poly’s Division IV team by a score of 6-4 in a non-divisional matchup.
Santa Barbara’s Brad Price had a field day with 10 goals and 21 points to lead all Division III scorers at the kickoff event while teammate Reyes LeGrande notched eight goals and 14 points.
Arizona rolled past UCLA (10-2) and Pomona (13-1) in key divisional matchups. Ethan Zorbas backstopped the Wildcats defensively with a 3.33 GAA and .833 save percentage.
Pomona topped San Jose State, 12-1, in a division contest while sliding past Chico State’s Division II team, 8-7, in an upset. Christopher Melendez drove the Broncos on the playing court with nine goals and 12 points in three games.
Among Division IV teams, both ASU and Arizona faced off their seasons with 3-1 records. The teams met once in Irvine with ASU scoring a 4-1 win.
The Sun Devils defeated Fullerton (12-0), Cal Poly SLO (9-3) and Arizona in divisional matchups while coming up short, 6-1, against Arizona’s Division III team. The Wildcats topped Pomona, 12-0, and San Luis Obispo, 9-2, in divisional games while skating past Pomona’s Division III team, 10-3, to collect their three wins in California.
Skyler Sanchez led ASU with a division-best nine goals and 12 points while Arizona’s Rene LeBlanc posted a 2.33 GAA and .788 save percentage to pace division goaltenders.
West Valley (pictured top), meanwhile, proved it can hold its own with any of the four-year university teams after scoring three wins and one overtime loss at the kickoff Irvine event. The Vikings slapped losses on NAU’s Division II team (9-2), UC Santa Barbara’s Division III team (9-3) and Chico State’s Division II team (11-2) while coming up short against ASU in overtime.
Chase Edwards paced West Valley with 10 goals and 14 points in the four games in Irvine while Zack Nolte collected five goals and 10 points. Goaltender Luke Benavente recorded three wins to go with a 2.75 GAA and 0.861 save percentage.
NAU recorded some eye-popping offensive numbers in its regular season debut. Max Reeves tallied 10 goals and 16 points while Jaden Guzman racked up five goals and a division-leading nine assists for 14 points in the Lumberjacks’ five trips to the floor.
The WCRHL’s second regular season event took place Nov. 6-7 at San Jose’s Silver Creek Sportsplex.
Besides a full gamut of WCHL teams, the University of Colorado ventured out to the Bay Area with good results. The Buffaloes finished 3-1 with wins over UC Santa Barbara (8-5), UCLA (7-0), San Jose State (12-1) and a 5-2 loss to the University of Arizona while outscoring their opponents 29-11.
Among top WCRHL team performances at the San Jose event, ASU’s Division I squad remained undefeated on the season with another 4-0 showing while the University of Arizona matched that record in Division IV. UCLA’s Division III team and ASU’s Division IV team both finished 3-1 in their second regular season outings while Fullerton rebounded with a 3-2 performance that was matched by Cal Poly SLO.
The Wildcats’ Division III team finished 2-2 as did Fullerton’s Division IV team and West Valley.
NAU and Pomona only participated in the league’s first regular season event.
“This year we have very strong Division III and Division IV teams,” said Arizona club president Griffin Sherwood, who serves as WCRHL treasurer and WCRHL active club committee lead. “Our Division III team has five wins, two of them were against Division I programs. That team has a few newcomers, including Jack Sapra, Dylan Smith and Hudson Fox, who are all freshmen. The rest of the team are all returning players. Saahil Ahuja has taken both a leadership and scoring role.
“Our Division IV team has a majority of new players with a few returning players. Of the returning players, Max Chase has really stood out. We have also picked up two new goalies, Rene LeBlanc and Jake Schwartz. It has always been a challenge to find goalies, so it is exciting to have four goalies in the program right now.
“Both teams are at the top of their divisions, and we expect to make a good run at nationals in the spring.”
Sherwood credits the team’s coaching staff – Nick Bazan, Josh Smith, Kevin Smith, Jack Allen and Ryan Miller – as being influential in bringing the Wildcats to their current level.
Pomona head coach John Paerels has been working with a largely remade lineup as the sport returns to campus.
“All players from our 2019-20 WCRHL Division III championship roster have graduated, and all but four players of our Division IV team have as well,” Paerels said. “With brand new officers doing their best to get up to speed with no past officers around to assist them, it’s been a challenge.”
Top players on the Broncos’ Division III team include Chris Melendez (nine goals, 12 points), Devin Matsumoto (five goals, seven points) Peter Lupercio (four goals, six points) and Stewart Ramirez (three goals, six points).
Returners on Pomona’s Division IV team are all club officers, including Nick Ruffer (president), Jarrett Chang and Ben Rose.
“We are hoping to add a few more skaters and another goalie as students learn that we care back in operation,” Paerels said.
Division I scoring leaders through two regular season events included ASU’s Steele and Hite with 22 and 19 points, respectively, and Fullerton’s Troy Yano with 11 points. Steele (10), Hite (seven) and Yano (six) led the division in goals scored while Hite and Steele topped the division with 12 assists each.
ASU’s Hartwell led Division I goaltending with a 1.57 GAA, seven wins and .911 save percentage while Fullerton’s Zachary Grago had recorded a 4.50 GAA and .816 save percentage.
Division II scoring leaders included NAU’s Reeves with 16 points, Cal Poly’s Katzaroff with 15 points and NAU’s Guzman and Cal Poly’s E.J. Gabriel with 14 points each. Katzaroff paced the division with 11 goals, followed by Reeves with 10 goals and Cal Poly’s Jared McMullen with eight goals while Guzman and Cal Poly’s Derek Le both had chalked up a division-leading nine assists.
Goaltending leaders included Cal Poly’s Jack Conlon (3.57 GAA, four wins, .786 save percentage) and NAU’s Jakob Ogan (5.40 GAA, two wins, .779 save percentage).
Division III scoring leaders featured UCLA’s Rishi Patel and Santa Barbara’s Price with 28 points each, followed by Santa Barbara’s LeGrande with 22 points. Price led the division with 15 goals, followed by LeGrande with 14 goals and the UCLA tandem of Nick Khamseh and Patel with 12 goals each. Assists leaders included Patel with 16 and Price with 13.
Arizona’s Zorbas paced division goaltenders with a 3.00 GAA, four wins and .849 save percentage while Santa Barbara’s Andre Martins Rodrigues had posted a 4.75 GAA and UCLA’s Maxwell Muller had registered a .787 save percentage to go with four victories.
Division IV scoring leaders included Arizona’s Chase with a runaway 37 points, ASU’s Sanchez with 22 points and Arizona’s Zachary Kavanagh with 21 points. The Wildcats’ Theo Hannah and Grady Sherwood both had collected 19 points. Chase topped the division in both goals (22) and assists (15).
Arizona’s goaltending duo of Schwartz (1.33 GAA) and LeBlanc (1.88 GAA) ranked first and second, respectively, in goals-against average. Schwartz topped division netminders with a .918 save percentage while LeBlanc led with four wins. ASU’s Tyler Briles had recorded a 2.25 GAA and .880 save percentage to push for top goaltending honors.
Edwards, a returning WCRHL standout, topped the JC Division with 15 goals and 23 points while teammate Sebastien Paquet was next with nine goals and 16 points. Other notables in the scoring column for West Valley included Nolte with 14 points and Sammy Jagiello with 11 points. Nolte led the division with nine assists, followed by Edwards with eight.
Benavente had top numbers in the goaltending department with a 2.99 GAA, five wins and a .862 save percentage.
The WCRHL’s next regular-season event is scheduled Jan. 22-23 at the Barney Family Sports Complex in Queen Creek, Ariz. Nor-Cal Inline (formerly Dry Ice) in Oakland will host an event Feb. 5-6 while The Rinks-Corona Inline will host the final regular season event Feb. 19-20.
The WCRHL’s conference championship tournament is slated March 5-6 at Corona Inline.
The WCRHL is among seven member conferences that comprise the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA), of which Edwards also serves as executive director.
Edwards noted that all of the all other conferences have gotten underway as well, including a three-team event in Colorado on Nov. 13 that included Colorado, Colorado State and visiting Kansas State.
Edwards indicated that Colorado State and Florida Gulf Coast will be attending January’s event in Arizona.
Photos courtesy WCRHL
– Phillip Brents
(January 2, 2022)