ACHA college programs shine at inaugural California Classic Showcase
The inaugural California Classic Showcase, held Oct. 10-13 at The Rinks-Lakewood ICE in Lakewood and Harbor City’s Skating Edge Ice Arena, helped shine the spotlight on five men’s collegiate programs within the Golden State.
The four-day event featured highly competitive play overall from the eight participating ACHA Division II teams.
The California roll call included Loyola Marymount University, CSU-Northridge, CSU-Fullerton and CSU-Long Beach from the West Coast Hockey Conference (WCHC) and San Diego State University from the PAC-8.
Out-of-state entrants included Colorado State University, the University of Colorado-Boulder and East Texas Baptist University.
The Texas visitors finished 3-0 in the final standings while San Diego State, LMU and Colorado State all wrapped up tournament play with 2-1 records. Northridge and Colorado posted 1-1-1 records while Fullerton and Long Beach both finished 0-3.
The ACHA is currently the highest competition level for collegiate men’s ice hockey teams in California.
“This was our first attempt at the Cali Classic Showcase where we try to get some top out-of-town teams to come to Los Angeles,” LMU general manager Tyler Goeckner-Zoeller explained. “It was four WCHC teams and four non-WCHC teams. The event turned out great, very competitive and showcased the strength of the California hockey scene with LMU, CSUN and SDSU all doing very well.
“A big focus for the west (region) recently has been to participate in showcases because the west is geographically so big, it helps bring lots of different teams to one locale and bridges the divides to get more areas playing against each other. This also significantly helps the rankings process. Overall it was a big success and we look forward to it continuing next year.”
Best in the West
East Texas Baptist University entered the weekend event riding a club record-tying 10-game winning streak and ended weekend play 13-0 after sweeping its three tournament games.
The Tigers remained hot on ice with wins over Northridge (4-3 in overtime), Fullerton (5-2) and Long Beach (9-1).
San Diego State, LMU and Northridge finished with the best records among the five California teams entered in the field.
LMU defeated SDSU (4-2) and Colorado (6-4) before dropping its final game to Colorado State (5-2).
SDSU rebounded with wins over Fullerton (3-1) and Long Beach (9-3) to conclude the weekend while Northridge posted a 5-5 overtime tie with the Colorado Buffaloes before defeating Colorado State 4-3 on the final day of the tournament.
Colorado finished 18th in the final ACHA Division II West Region poll in 2018-19.
Virtually all games in the tournament proved remarkably close, with nine of the 12 games decided by less than three goals, seven games by two goals or less and four games ending with either a one-goal difference or in overtime.
SDSU head coach Phil Bateman felt his team, which is off to a 7-1 start to the 2019-20 season, was one of the best teams at the event.
“We didn’t play our best (in the opener) and were upset,” Bateman said. “The game looked similar with our win over Fullerton, then finally we had our jump versus Long Beach in a physical game that looked a lot like the Georgia games (4-1 and 11-4 wins by the Aztecs over the University of Georgia Sept. 27-28 in San Diego). The SDSU team is still a young team and inconsistency is still a part of their game despite the talent on the roster.”
Red and Black
The SDSU-LMU series looks to develop into a genuine rivalry. This year’s two-game matchup ended in a standoff as the teams traded victories on home ice.
The Lions avenged their season opening 9-5 loss to the Aztecs on Sept. 13 in San Diego with the 4-2 win to face off the showcase tournament on Oct. 10. SDSU dominated the shot count 52-37 but LMU goaltender Jason Footlick made 50 saves to pace his team to the upset win.
The Lions received two goals from Brian Clem in the game and single goals from Justin Hertz and freshman Gabi Rodriguez, who scored his first collegiate goal.
SDSU dominated the shot count – 46 to 14 – in its game against Fullerton despite winning a nail-biter. Fullerton goaltender Gabe Zelico made 43 saves to keep his team in the game while Artem Klein, Reece Breuckman and Blake Reed each scored goals for the Aztecs.
Derian Theberge, a Santa Clarita native who played youth hockey for the Valencia Jr. Flyers and L.A. Jr. Kings, led SDSU with two goals and one assist in the win over Long Beach while senior Devyn Taras and freshman Ian Stentz both collected one goal and two assists. Klein contributed three assists while sophomore Elisha Reece scored two goals.
Theberge, Stentz, Klein and Reed have been consistent point-getters to face off the 2019-20 season for the Aztecs.
Theberge tops the early season SDSU scoring chart with 10 goals while Klein, an exchange student from Mannheim, Germany, tops the team with 15 assists and 22 points.
Stentz, a Minnesota transplant, ranks second in team scoring with 19 points while Reed, the 2019 Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (ADHSHL) Offensive Player of the Year out of JSerra, has impressed with eight goals and 12 points in eight games.
Hear them roar
LMU improved to 2-0 in the tournament after closing out its game against Colorado with three unanswered goals to erase a 4-3 lead by the Buffaloes. Clem, a former Jr. Duck, scored to tie the score, followed by teammate Alexander Swenson Lennox with the go-ahead goal and Robby McClellan to ice the victory as goaltender Grant Campbell stopped 19 of 23 pucks directed his way.
The Lions (4-3) were bidding for a three-game sweep after taking a 2-1 first period lead on Colorado State in their final tournament game but the Rams rallied with the final three goals of the game to win by three goals. Eric Anderson and Hertz scored for LMU.
Through seven games, LMU’s leaderboard included Hertz with 10 points, Clem with nine points, and Chris Manzer and Austin Billings both with eight points. Manzer, a former Jr. Shark, led the Lions with seven goals in seven games.
In five game appearances between the pipes, Footlick had posted a 3-2 record with a 3.60 GAA, one shutout and .885 save percentage.
Northridge entered the showcase tournament with some prestigious credentials as three-time defending WCHC conference tournament champions. The Matadors earned the No. 10 seed at the 2019 ACHA Division II West Regionals in Tempe as the top team in California after posting a 20-6-1 regular season record.
Northridge defeated San Diego State in the 2017 conference final and topped Long Beach State in both 2018 and 2019.
The Matadors have yet to be defeated in regular season play in 2019-20 with a 5-0-1-1 record (five wins, one overtime loss and one overtime tie).
Northridge faced off the season with a pair of wins against UC Berkeley (6-3 and 4-3) on Sept. 20-21 at the Oakland Ice Center. The Bears finished as the runner-up in last season’s PAC-8 championship tournament in South Lake Tahoe.
The Matadors made one extra stop on their season opening Bay Area road trip by scoring an 11-1 win over Fresno State in an exhibition contest on Sept. 22.
Quentin Abaya, Geno Norriak and Eli Berengut each scored goals in the overtime loss to East Texas Baptist in the showcase opener while Norriak, a former Jr. King, led CSUN in the scoring column with two goals in the overtime tie against Colorado.
Northridge ended the tournament on a winning note as Abaya and Matthew Hoover each picked up a goal and assist while Matador goaltender Vincent Sepe faced 52 shots, turning aside 49.
Berengut, from Woodland Hills, recorded his 200th career point the weekend prior to the start of the California Classic Showcase. Through seven games, he led Northridge in team scoring with nine goals and 13 points. Four players were next in line each with nine points: Grayson Szumilas, Abaya, Norraik and Zach Carnes.
Sepe started the season 3-1 with a 3.34 GAA and .910 save percentage.
The PAC-8 hockey conference added five new teams as affiliate members for the 2018-19 season; all five newcomers (Boise State, Eastern Washington, SDSU, San Jose State and Western Washington) return this season to maintain conference membership at 12 teams. Prior to expansion, the PAC-8 membership included seven teams.
The North Division includes Boise State, Eastern Washington, Oregon, Washington, Western Washington and Washington State. Boise State and Eastern Washington tied for the 2018-19 regular season lead with 20 points, though Oregon upset the field to win the conference tournament championship.
The South Division includes the Cal Bears, SDSU, San Jose State, Arizona State, USC and UCLA. The Bears edged the Aztecs by two points for the regular season lead last season before advancing to the conference final against Oregon, dropping a 3-0 decision.
Bateman said his team’s inaugural season in the PAC-8 was a positive one after leaving the WCHC.
“We’re playing schools with larger alumni bases,” the SDSU coach said. “It’s been very competitive so far.”
The PAC-8 placed four teams in the final Top 20 West Region rankings last season: Boise State (fourth), Oregon (ninth), Eastern Washington (17th) and UC Berkeley (20th).
SDSU edged host UCLA, 6-5, in the teams’ PAC-8 season opener on Oct. 4.
Cal split its conference opening series against ASU on Sept. 27-28, winning 3-0 and losing by the same score.
Delfino Varela, who led the Bears inline team to a runner-up finish in their division at April’s 2019 National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) national championship tournament in Rochester, N.Y., topped Cal in the scoring column to face off the 2019-20 ice hockey season.
The ACHA has received positive feedback from players making the jump from the ADHSHL. Michael Pellegrino joins Reed as a JSerra alum on the SDSU roster.
“It feels like high school hockey but upgraded, more physical and more fans coming out to the games,” said Pellegrino, a former Jr. Duck, who was excited to notch a hat trick as a freshman in a 13-1 non-conference win over the University of San Diego on Sept. 22.
Northridge opened defense of its WCHC conference title by clipping Long Beach 5-3 in a game played Oct. 5 at the Iceoplex in Simi Valley. Szumilas led all scorers in the game with two goals and one assist while Sepe stopped 25 of 28 shots to notch the win.
In a game played Sept. 28 at Bay Harbor, James Maloney led all scorers with five points on a goal and four assists while Fullerton teammate Ethan Kreller chalked up four points on two goals and two assists in a 7-5 win over LMU in the WCHC opener for both teams.
LMU shut out Long Beach 3-0 on Oct. 4 to even its conference record at 1-1. Hertz, Billings and Ryan Hirai each scored goals for the Lions.
CSU Bakersfield won its conference opener against Chapman University, 5-2, on Sept. 20.
The University of San Diego, braced by a full roster, faced off 2019-20 conference play 2-0 with a 6-5 overtime win over Chapman on Oct. 5 and a 7-5 win over UC San Diego on Oct. 13.
Basi Morond scored the game winner against Chapman. Morond (four goals, one assist) and Brett Roenick (one goal, four assists) both tabulated five points in the win over UC San Diego.
— Phillip Brents
(Oct. 18, 2019)