California Rubber

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Vikings eagerly preparing to get back on West Valley roller hockey floor in 2021-22

 

It has been more than 850 days since the last puck was dropped for the West Valley Vikings.

After wrapping up their 2019-20 regular-season college campaign, their postseason run of the Saratoga-based team was cut short by the pandemic.

West Valley spotted a 5-9-2 record in 2019, following a five-game losing streak to close out the regular season. The looming question is, how will the defense look fairing from previous seasons? In back-to-back seasons, from 2018-19 throughout 2019-20, West Valley topped over 100 goals against in each season.

Improvement will be needed this coming season, as they look to bolster the back end, after giving up a total 119 goals in the regular season. Coming with a minus-30 goal differential, the team has struggled to keep pucks out of their net.

“We had too much inconsistency during practice,” said West Valley forward Max Rogers. “We would go weeks without practicing and then go into a tournament thinking we would be able to compete.”

Two years later, West Valley is ready to lace up the skates again in the National College Roller Hockey Association come October. They enter the year with the same goal in mind – a national championship.

“That has always been our goal, to win a national championship,” West Valley team manager Christine Swanson said.

Their only national title came in April 2017, going perfect throughout the playoffs with a 5-0 record. Adding a 10-0 win in the championship over St. Charles Community College. Ever since 2017, West Valley has failed to make it to the national championship game.

With excitement surrounding West Valley, the Vikings will start their 16-game season in Southern California. They will play a four-game round robin series that will determine seeding for division placement in the NCRHA.

They will then head home to Silver Creek Sportsplex to wrap up the last four games of the semester. From there, West Valley will look to finish its last eight games of the season in the second semester, where they will be looking for another bid at the 2022 NCRHA National Championship.

“It’s exciting to be back. We haven’t been able to play the past two seasons,” West Valley forward Chad Payne said. “You remember all the work you put in during the season and it gets cancelled on you. It sucks, but there is nothing you can do besides turn the page. Everyone is excited to get back to work.”

With a new season brings new faces.

West Valley is set to enter its sixth season in club history, looking to strengthen the 11-man roster. In 2019, they never had a true starting goaltender, thus being forced to use a forward as a goalie throughout the season. Tryouts will be held in September to solidify the roster, a chance for incoming players to join the squad. Look for West Valley to use this as a time to find a starting goaltender, while stiffening up its defense.

Offense has not been a problem for West Valley, which has posted 89 goals in 16 games. They also carry a lethal power play, tallying 15 goals for 34 percent on special teams. In 2019, they led with five scoring leaders within the top 10 in the NCRHA: Chase Edwards (32), James Thompson (24), Payne (21), Joshua Viller (19) and Austin Trenner (18).

Best-case scenario

If West Valley can pick up a few defensemen through their tryouts and a solid starting goaltender, they should be able to climb above .500 in the standings. Obtaining these two pieces is critical to their roster and success this season. Look for West Valley to make a push for the Junior College National Championship if they can make these adjustments. With an already skilled offense, some help on defense should be able to take them deep into the postseason.

Worst-case scenario

A long season could be on the horizon if goaltending does not get addressed – if there is no goalie, there is no defense. These are two main points of focus for them headed into the season. If they cannot do this, it will be a repeat of 2019 again. They will have to find a way to build a defense around their goaltender.

Photo/Ed Salazar

— Joseph Furtado

(June 24, 2021)

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