WCHC teams readying for upcoming 2023-24 ACHA season
The West Coast Hockey Conference (WCHC) returns this season with 15 teams once again separated into three divisions.
The WCHC playoff champion is an automatic qualifier to the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division II West Regional tournament.
The conference is once again topped by six Tier 1 teams along with nine teams in its Tier 2 division.
This season’s Tier 1 group includes the Grand Canyon University Antelopes, Arizona State University Sun Devils, Northern Arizona University IceJacks, UCLA Bruins, Loyola Marymount University Lions and CSU Northridge Matadors.
GCU won last year’s Tier 1 championship with a dramatic 3-2 win over top-seeded UCLA, while Northridge, last season’s Tier 2 champion, receives promotion to Tier 1. In return, Long Beach State University moves down to Tier 2 this season.
The Tier 2 includes two sub-divisions: Tier 2 South (five teams) and Tier 2 North (four teams).
Tier 2 South includes CSU Fullerton Titans, Long Beach State, Cal Lutheran University Kingsmen, UC Santa Barbara Gauchos and UC Irvine Anteaters.
Tier 2 North includes Santa Clara University Broncos, UC Davis Aggies, Fresno State University Bulldogs and UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.
Fresno State has been added this season to the WCHC membership while Santa Rosa Junior College and Chapman University both experienced low turnouts and are not fielding teams this season.
“It should be a great season,” LMU general manager Tyler Goeckner-Zoeller said. “Fullerton and Santa Barbara are looking like favorites to win Tier 2 this year. Tier 1 is wide open as usual. All teams should be strong.”
Early season results have favored UCLA with a 3-0 start in Tier 1 while Santa Clara is off to a 3-0 start in Tier 2 North. Both ASU and GCU were close behind at 2-1 in Tier 1.
Several teams have yet to play their first games, so changes in the standings are inevitable.
LMU is fielding two teams this season: M2 and M3 squads.
The Lions have experienced their share of changes from last season. Longtime LMU M2 coach Jackson Hyman has left the program to take the ACHA M1 job at the University of Oregon. In his place. LMU has hired Daniel Kim. Trevor Wada joins the Lions program as the new M3 coach.
Kim, 42, played professionally for the Long Beach Ice Dogs in the West Coast Hockey League (2002-03) and the Bakersfield Condors in the ECHL (2004-07). He has coached youth hockey at various levels and birth years for the past 20 years and is currently the hockey director for the Los Angeles Kings’ Iceland at Paramount and L.A. Kings Ice Palos Verdes.
A product of the California Amateur Hockey Association, Wada, 34, has played, coached and officiated in California over the last 19 years. A Fullerton native, Wada graduated from Cal State University Fullerton where he played on the college’s ACHA Division II team in 2014 and 2015.
He has had a track record of success as a youth-level coach with two CAHA Tier 2 state championships and two finalist place-finishes over the last five years as well as a 18U Tier 1 state championship in 2022.
Hyman, who was inducted into the LMU Hall of Fame with the 2022 class, played four seasons at LMU and captained the team for two years. He finished as the program’s all-time leader in games played as well as second all-time in points, goals and assists.
After graduating in 2015, he moved behind the bench in 2016 as an assistant coach with the Lions and in 2019 as head coach. He is LMU’s all-time wins leader as a head coach.
The Lions M2 team welcomes impact freshmen Jeffrey Lee (San Jose), Alex Skenderian (Camarillo) and Ethan Patterson (Dripping Springs, Tex).
Lee, 21, attended Archbishop Mitty High School while playing in the Bay Area for the San Jose Jr. Sharks. He later played for the Cape Cod Whalers, Milton Academy (USHS Prep), Kenai River Brown Bears (NAHL) and PAL Jr. Islanders (NCDC) before joining the Lions as a freshman.
He notched 33 goals and 52 points in just 14 high school hockey games with Mitty.
In four games to start his LMU career, he’s gotten out of the chute on a promising note with three points (one goal, two assists).
Skenderian, 19, got his start with the Valencia Jr, Flyers and California Wave at the 14U level before becoming a longtime L.A. Jr. King (15U through 18U levels). He racked up 71 points (41 goals, 30 assists) in 58 games with the Wave in 2018-19 and collected 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists) in 39 games with the Jr. Kings’ 18U AAA team in 2021-22.
He’s collected four points (two goals, two assists) in his first four games with the Lions to rank thrid in team scoring.
Patterson joins LMU as an 18-year-old freshman who put up 72 PIM in 47 games last season with the Austin Ice Bats (NA3HL). He has two assists from his blue line position.
The Lions M2 team returns three of its four top scorers from last season: forwards Bryson Martin (16 goals, 27 points), Connor Kaczmarek (16 goals, 22 points) and Spencer Engstrom (six goals, 18 points).
“We’re returning a strong team,” Goeckner-Zoeller said. “This group is looking for regionals and more.”
LMU (3-2 in WCHC play) faced off its season with a 6-3 non-conference loss at M1 San Diego State University on Sept. 15 but promptly reeled off three wins against conference opponents. The Lions topped Fullerton, 13-1, on Sept. 16 at Skating Edge Ice Arena to make amends for the season opening loss to the Aztecs.
LMU recorded a record-breaking outing at the Toyota Sports Center on Sept. 22 with 500 fans in attendance to view a 9-1 victory against San Jose State. It was the first time the Lions had topped the 500 mark in home attendance.
The Lions swept the weekend set against the Spartans with a 6-3 win on Sept. 23.
LMU dropped its first WCHC game of the season, 5-3, to GCU on Sept. 30 on the strength of an empty net goal with 11 seconds to play by the visiting Antelopes. The Lions lost a tight 2-1 contest to UCLA at The Cube on Oct. 7.
Senior Matisse Hawthorne (Inglewood) keyed the Lions in scoring through four games with eight points on two goals and six assists while Martin, a junior, was the team’s goal-scoring leader with five goals.
Senior goaltender Henry Lissner (Bellarmine College Prep/San Jose) was 1-1 with a 1.50 GAA and a .950 save percentage in two game appearances.
LMU’s M3 team will play a schedule fitted with M2 teams, mostly WCHC Tier 2 teams. The baby Lions lost 10-2 to Fullerton on Sept. 15 but bounced back to record their first win in club history with a 7-3 decision over Cal Lutheran on Oct. 7.
The Pac-8 conference includes nine teams this season, including four California schools: Cal-Berkeley, University of Southern California, San Jose State and UC San Diego. Rounding out membership for the 2023-24 season are the University of Washington, Western Washington University, Utah, Washington State and Eastern Washington University.
Washington is off to a 4-0-0 start while Cal-Berkeley is 3-0-1.
Statistical leaders for the Cal Golden Bears include juniors Brendan Baker and Michael Shum with six points each on four goals and two assists and sophomore Tyson Storr (three goals, two assists) and senior Lukas Balen (two goals, three assists) with five points each.
Junior goaltender Yusuf Akbas had whittled together a 3-0-1 record with one shutout, 1.99 GAA and a .855 save percentage in four games.
— Phillip Brents
(October 16, 2023)