WCRHL rolls out first semester of 2022-23 season with pleasant surprises
The Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) has logged its first semester and, while the league is somewhat streamlined with a drop to 12 active teams, the early stages of the 2022-23 campaign has produced its share of surprises, particularly at the Division 1 level.
“With three games played against Grand Canyon University, I don’t think either team can really claim dominance as of yet, with each team having a 3-2 win and the one game advantage to ASU having a 4-2 win with a lot of special teams involved,” Arizona State University program director Nick Boyarsky said. “ASU hasn’t been necessarily uncontested in recent years, but the region was sort of in an ‘ours to lose’ scenario, if that makes sense, so this is a good thing for us and for the region as a whole.”
Two very competitive Division 1 teams has helped lift up a smaller WCRHL.
Both the Antelopes and Sun Devils have played eight games across two regular season events so far, and there really isn’t that much difference between them.
ASU is 7-1-0 with 14 standings points while GCU is 6-2-0 with 12 standings points. The Antelopes have brought scoring punch into the division with 48 goals compared to 32 for the Sun Devils. On the other side of the playing court, ASU has allowed 10 goals compared to 18 for GCU.
“Both GCU and ASU are pretty evenly matched during 4-on-4 play, so special teams really becomes the difference maker,” Boyarsky said. “To tip things in our favor, we’re focusing on a versatile power play with multiple threats, discipline in staying out of the box ourselves, and the fact that we have one of the sports’ top young, up-and-coming goaltenders in Lane Hartwell.”
GCU boasts the top four scorers in the division: Aydin Schwertz with 23 points (18 goals, five assists), Logan Estes (11 goals, three assists) and Brydon Frisk (five goals, nine assists) with 14 points each and Nick Ettelbrick with 12 points (five goals, seven assists). Matt Cornish tops ASU with 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists).
Schwertz leads the division in goals scored while Frisk paces the division in assists.
Hartwell appears to have the edge in goaltending with a 1.24 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage while GCU’s Guido Pacheco has a 1.50 GAA and a .870 save percentage. The Antelopes have used two netminders so far this season with Eric Buchholz coming in with a 3.02 GAA and a .840 save percentage.
Hartwell has won seven of the eight games in which he has played. Pacheco is 4-0 while Buchholz is 2-2.
“The addition of a team like GCU has given the WCRHL the competitive edge it has lacked in recent years,” Boyarsky noted. “Some schools have a season or two where they are competitive but can’t sustain it long term. Having more stable and sustainable D1 clubs like GCU come in will only help the league improve and draw more players to collegiate roller hockey.”
Boyarsky said significant player turnover from last season has forced the Sun Devils to adapt and gain cohesion as the season has developed.
“With one-third of the D1 roster including new players and/or players making the jump from our AA team, it’s taken the better part of the first semester to get everyone on the same page,” Boyarsky said.
“The adjustments the team was able to make from our first series in October to a few weeks later in November were encouraging for meeting the team’s goal of winning the regional D1 title again and being prepared to compete against the rest of the regions.
“Having a goaltender like Lane Hartwell has given the team the confidence it needs to take risks and be a bit more offensive than we’d be able to without him behind us. Unlike some other teams, we rely on our full roster to provide full strength offense for us. That means everyone has to show up every game, and so far, that has been the case.”
ASU will once again make the mid-winter trek (Feb. 5-6) to Palatine, Ill., to compete in an inter-regional tournament that will allow Division 1 and Division 2 teams that would not normally meet during the regular season to get a chance to interact on the playing surface.
Besides the Sun Devils, Grand Canyon and the University of Arizona also plan to attend the Chicagoland inter-regional event. Potential opponents include Michigan State, Bethel, Lindenwood University and Ohio State.
“That will give us a much better look at where we sit outside our region,” Boyarsky said.
The WCRHL’s first semester included three regular-season events – Oct. 29-30 in Corona, Nov. 12-13 in Tucson and Nov. 19-20 in San Jose.
WCRHL play resumes with regular season events Jan. 28 in Oakland and Jan. 28-29 in Queen Creek, Ariz.
The Rinks-Corona Inline will host a final regular season event Feb. 18-19 before hosting the conference championship event March 4-5.
The National College Roller Hockey Championships are scheduled for a Southern California showcase April 19-24 at the Rinks-Irvine Inline.
Who’s on first?
Division leaders through the opening semester include the University of Arizona in Division II, UC Santa Barbara in Division III and U-of-A again in the re-branded AA Division (formerly Division IV).
Arizona leads the three-team pack in Division II with a 5-2-0-1 (overtime loss) record, followed by CSU Fullerton at 4-4-0 and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at 3-5-0.
Santa Barbara tops the Division III standings with a near perfect 6-1-0-1 mark, followed by San Jose State at 5-3-0, Cal Poly Pomona at 3-4-0-1 and Northern Arizona University at 0-8-0.
Arizona paces the developmental AA division with a 5-3-0 record, followed by Fullerton at 4-3-0-1 and ASU at 3-5-0.
“It was a good start to the season,” WCRHL and National College Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) executive director Brennan Edwards said. “The preseason event (Oct. 15-16) at Irvine went well — Grand Canyon University came out, as well as most of the California teams. We kicked off the season officially at Corona Inline in October (29-30) with some great games between Grand Canyon, Arizona State, University of Arizona and also CSU Fullerton and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“Then we had two November events, Tucson (Nov. 12-13) and San Jose (Nov. 19-20). All of the Arizona teams played in Tucson and all of the California teams played in San Jose. Both events had some great competitive games. The Tucson event definitely had the intensity of playoff hockey, as the teams have a lot of history and are extremely well-balanced competitively.”
Wheelers and dealers
Four of the top five Division II scoring leaders at the semester break were from the University of Arizona, which isn’t surprising because the Wildcats top the division. Dylan Smith (29 points), Hudson Fox (28 points) and Jack Sapra (18 points) paced the division in points in that order while Alec Cadieux (15 points) was fifth behind Cal Poly SLO’s Derek Le (16 points).
Smith (22 goals) and Fox (20 goals) keyed division goal-scorer while Sapra (13) and Le (11) ranked as the division’s pass masters.
On the goaltending front, Arizona returner Ethan Zorbas posted the top numbers in the first semester with a 3.40 goals-against average, a .824 save percentage and four wins in seven appearances. Fullerton’s Kurt Yano ranked second across the board with a 4.02 GAA, .801 save percentage and three wins in seven appearances.
Santa Barbara returner Brad Price led Division II scorers in both goals (26) and points (33) while Pomona’s Matthew Augustine ranked second in both goals (16) and points (23).
Santa Barbara’s Karsten Lansing and Pomona’s Peter Lupercio followed the division’s dynamic duo with 15 points each while San Jose State’s Jeremy Zaya held down the No. 5 spot with 14 points.
Zaya ranked third in the division with 12 goals while Lupercio had 11. Conversely, three players were tied with eight assists: Santa Barbara’s Aiden Evans, San Jose State’s Austin Palmer and Santa Barbara’s Riley Wong.
Santa Barbara’s Andre Martins Rodrigues was the division goaltending leader with a 3.50 GAA, .821 save percentage and six wins in eight appearances. NAU’s Jakob Ogan ranked second in the division with a .777 save percentage while San Jose State’s Diego Rosales had recorded five wins in seven appearances.
Fullerton’s Caden Fehr (28 points), Ezra Gale (20 points) and Ethan Kreller (17 points) topped AA Division scorers. Fehr led the division with 19 goals while Gale led the division with 10 assists.
Arizona’s Ethan Valentine was the division goaltending leader with a 3.48 GAA, .837 save percentage and five wins in eight games. ASU’s Jonathan Reuss (6.25 GAA), ASU’s Miles Gurrola (.774 save percentage) and Samantha Kat Reyes (three wins in six games) held down runner-up positions.
Valentine (Murrieta) and Reyes (Corona) both have been NARCh and State Wars stalwarts at the national level for the past several seasons.
“It’s been a somewhat challenging season due to fewer overall teams since 2019,” Pomona program director John Paerels said. “As a result, it went OK for the all-team event at Corona in October, but scheduling was tougher for the Tucson and San Jose events, with more inter-divisional games. Currently, there is only one team out of Northern California (San Jose State) and no Division 1 teams in California.
“For Pomona, overall we’re in a better place than last year with more total players, but since we weren’t sure we had enough of a commitment from players to field two teams for all events, our AA (formerly D4) squad is playing as an affiliate team on a per-event basis. While we managed to get both teams to San Jose, both teams were running a few players short, and it showed in the results.
“It will definitely be nice having nationals at Irvine in April in terms of not having to pay for travel or lodging and students not losing a week of school, but we will miss out on the bonding that took place when we went to Fargo (2018) and Rochester (2019).”
Arizona club president Griffin Sherwood is excited about the direction the Wildcats program is heading.
“Both teams (Division 2 and Division 2-AA) have had a strong start to the season,” Sherwood explained. “Our D2 team is undefeated in our division in the regular season with wins over both Cal Poly (13-4) and CSU Fullerton (6-2). We are 5-2-1 overall. We’re very happy we made the jump to Division 2 this year. We won the WRCHL Division 3 championship last year, and our goal is to win the WCRHL Division 2 regional championship this year, bringing back-to-back championships to the program.
“We’ve also played some exciting Division 1 games this season against GCU and ASU. It’s been great having so many highly skilled teams in Arizona. Most notably, we took ASU’s Division 1 to overtime with a score of 2-2. We couldn’t secure the overtime win and ended up losing 3-2. However, since our club was founded in 2011, this is the first time we’ve gone to overtime against ASU’s Division 1 team. We’re content receiving one point for the overtime loss, and I think it shows how much the program has grown lately. We’re hoping for a rematch later this season.
“We’ve been working hard at practices and focusing on playing man-on-man defense and a strong possession on offense. I’d like to shout out our head coach Kevin Smith, who has been working hard to get everyone on the same page with the fundamentals of good roller hockey and has greatly improved our style of play.
“Our D2-AA team is also undefeated in the AA division in the regular season. Our D2-AA team has many new talented players. Quite a few players had never played roller hockey and only played ice hockey before this season, but they have all picked up on the skating and style of play quickly. I’m excited to see how this team develops over the rest of the season, since many of them are the future of our program.
“In the AA division, our hardest competition has always been the ASU AA team. We were very happy to secure a win (7-3) against ASU’s Division 1-AA in Tucson. I think our team has a great shot at bringing home the WRCHL AA regional championship.”
The Tucson event, dubbed the “Arizona Showdown,” brought together playing talent at both the varsity and developmental levels from all four Arizona schools: U-of-A, ASU, GCU and NAU.
“We were very excited to host a home event in Tucson at the Tucson Indoor Sports Center,” Sherwood said. “We advocated over the summer for the WCRHL to agree to schedule games in Tucson as this did not happen last season. With all the highly skilled teams out of Arizona, it’s been great to have more events locally. This event only featured Arizona teams, but in the future, we’d love for schools from California to be invited to attend as well.”
– Phillip Brents
(January 2, 2023)