Arizona inline teams bidding for NCRHA national collegiate championships
The Arizona State University inline hockey program set a pair of important milestones during the 2017-18 Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) season.
It marked the first time the Sun Devils had won a Division I regional championship and also the first time that both the Division I and Division III teams won regional championships in the same year.
“We’ve been in a handful of final games but the stars have never aligned for us to make it there and win it,” ASU program director Nick Boyarsky said. “I believe we’ve won regular season before but never regionals. Beyond that, obviously this is the first time our program has taken both regular season and regionals with both the Division I and Division III teams.”
Both teams are headed to the 2018 National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) national championship tournament in Fargo, N.D.
Overall, the WCRHL has 12 teams competing at April 11-15 event — eight from California and four from Arizona.
The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, last year’s WCRHL regional champion, joins newly minted regional champion ASU in the Division I field.
Entrants in the Division II field include the reigning WCRHL regional champion Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks, the University of Arizona Wildcats (last year’s regional champion and this year’s runner-up), plus the San Jose State Spartans and Cal Poly Pomona Broncos.
Newly crowned WCRHL regional champion Arizona State is joined by the 2018 regional runner-up Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs, plus West Valley College and Cal Poly Pomona, in the Division III field.
West Valley College and Saddleback College, both from California, represent the WCRHL in the Junior College Division.
“The WCRHL teams will have their hands full, especially in Division I and Division III where the favorites remain the same from year to year: Farmingdale State, Lindenwood University, Michigan State, Bethel University, among others,” explained Brennan Edwards, who serves both as WCRHL director and NCRHA executive director.
“Arizona State looks to be the WCRHL’s strongest team, as they finished as the WCRHL Division I champion this year, but look to have the most depth overall.
“In Division II, the long-benched NAU does look like a top five team, with the University of Arizona right behind them. Cal Poly Pomona may be a sleeper though, as they have won some big games against all odds this year and are prepared to do the same at nationals.
“In Division III, both Arizona State and Cal Poly have the talent to win games against the top four, but competing against two to three solid lines of Lindenwood, Farmingdale and Michigan State is often a tough challenge. All in all, I know they are all up to the challenge.”
This year’s Junior College Division takes a welcome hike in numbers to five teams. West Valley returns to defend its national championship title.
“Saddleback and West Valley look like the top two teams on paper,” Edwards offered. “But they have never faced any of the other three teams, other than West Valley against St. Louis Community College last year. These five teams will all play each other in round robin, then the top four teams will advance to the semifinals.”
The four divisions are staggered throughout the week. The Division I and Division II tournaments face off April 11 and cap five days of competition with the championship game on April 15. The Division III and Junior College Division tournaments run April 13-15.
ASU’s Division I team takes an overall 23-3-0-1 record (including non-divisional games) and a 16-game winning streak into this year’s national championship tournament.
The Sun Devils are led in scoring by Ryan Cotton with 28 goals and 50 points, followed by Wes Fry with 21 goals and 39 points.
The team is loaded with players who can put the puck in the net. Aaron Bland ranks third on the team with 21 goals and 35 points, followed by Aryeh Richer with 13 goals and 32 points, Jake Romo with 19 goals and 28 points. Cy Jewell and Jayme Haveman rank in a tie for sixth in team scoring with 21 points, followed by Ian Bast with 19 points, Kyle Friedman with 13 points and Trevor Weinstock with 11 points.
Fry and Haveman lead ASU with four game-winning goals while Bast has notched three game-winners.
Goaltender Aaron Gittings appears on top of his game with a 21-4 record in 25 games with a 2.50 GAA, one shutout and .866 save percentage.
The WCRHL regional championships took place March 3-4 in Corona, Calif.
Gittings earned the Most Valuable Goaltender award after posting a scintillating 1.62 goals-against average and .900 save percentage to lead all netminders in the opening round-robin.
Richter paced ASU with one goal and one assist in the Division I championship game —a 3-2 win over Cal Poly SLO — while Jewell and Haveman each chipped in with one goal. Haveman notched the game-winner to earn the Division I Most Valuable Player award.
This year’s Division I NCRHA field includes 17 teams.
The Sun Devils’ draw is challenging with Michigan State, Neumann University and Lindenwood University all in the same round-robin pool. Lindenwood finished runner-up to Farmingdale State in last year’s national championship game while Neumann advanced to the quarterfinals (along with ASU and Michigan State).
Farmingdale State defeated the Sud Devils (quarterfinals), UC Santa Barbara (semifinals) and Lindenwood (finals) to win last year’s Division I championship.
ASU’s Division III team finished 4-0 at this year’s WCRHL regionals, topping West Valley College, 10-4, in the semifinals and Cal Poly SLO, 7-4, in the championship game.
The Sun Devils’ draw in this year’s NCRHA Division III tournament is no less daunting with Lindenwood, Farmingdale State and Michigan State in the same round-robin pool.
Lindenwood topped Farmingdale State to win last year’s Division III national championship. Farmingdale State eliminated Michigan State in the semifinals.
The Sun Devils, who did not compete at last year’s nationals, head into this year’s Division III national championship tournament riding a monstrous 19-game winning streak.
In 21 total games this season, Paxton Parker tops ASU in team scoring with 73 points (29 goals, 44 assists), followed by Jordan Behm with 56 points (36 goals, 20 assists), John Henze with 48 points (22 goals, 46 assists), Clay Heinze with 47 points (28 goals, 19 assists), Clint Tapsell with 45 points (27 goals, 18 assists) and Shaun McDonald with 43 points (17 goals, 26 points).
Parker leads the team with seven game-winning goals while Behm tops the team with six power play goals.
Ruby is 20-1 between the pipes with a 2.33 GAA, .854 save percentage and seven shutouts.
The Sun Devils appear primed to make a statement in North Dakota.
Making the grade
NAU and Arizona both advanced as far as last year’s Sweet Sixteen round. Both sport top-end records this season: the Lumberjacks at 16-4-0-2 and the Wildcats at 16-8-0-2.
NAU’s pool at this year’s NCRHA nationals includes East Carolina, Northeastern and Florida; Arizona has the Rochester Institute of Technology, Kansas State and San Jose State in its pool.
Trevor Riffey remains NAU’s scoring machine with 43 goals and 62 points in 19 games this season. He’s followed on the score sheet by teammate Joshua Roof with 22 goals and 37 points.
Daniel Diaz, who possesses a team- leading 25 assists, ranks third on the team with 34 points, followed by Austin Wright with 33 points, Camden Taylor with 24 points, Trevor Scott with 23 points and Austin Cannon with 20 points.
Wright ranks third on the team with 17 goals; Cannon is fourth with 13 goals.
Overall, 14 players have scored goals for the Lumberjacks this season, including seven players who have scored in double-digit goals.
Riffey, the Division II MVP at this year’s WCRHL regionals, tops the team with six game-winning goals, 10 power-play goals and six shorthanded goals. Roof, Cannon and Tyler Miller each have potted two game-winners this season. Roof also had five power play goals to his credit.
Goaltender Anders Hultgren is 12-6 on the season with a 5.23 GAA and .746 save percentage.
NAU finished third in the regular season WCRHL standings behind leader San Jose State and runner-up Arizona. However, the Lumberjacks finished 4-0 at the ensuing regionals.
NAU defeated Pomona, 8-5, in the semifinals and topped Arizona, 8-6, in the championship game. The ‘Jacks scored two goals in the final three seconds to win this year’s regional title in thrilling fashion.
Riffey came up big for the Lumberjacks in the regional championship game with four goals and one assist. He scored what proved to be the game-winning goal and assisted on an empty-net goal to seal the come-from-behind win.
David Santos tops Arizona in season scoring with 33 goals and 64 points in 25 games. He’s followed by teammates Jacob Toro with 24 goals and 44 points, Tanner Ferrandi with 23 goals and 40 points, Joseph Riffitts with 25 goals and 39 points and Ben Jackson with 17 goals and 36 points.
Toro and Riffitts top the Wildcats with four game-winning goals each while Santos has three game-winners.
Brett Bushnell has posted a 9-4 record, 3.29 GAA with a .864 save percentage in 13 game appearances.
Kenneth Eakle earned the Division II Most Valuable Goaltender award at the WCRHL regionals. He finished the season with a 7-5 record in 12 game appearances to go with a 3.23 GAA and .846 save percentage and one shutout.
The Wildcats defeated regular season leader San Jose State, 4-2, in the semifinals to make it an all-Grand Canyon State final at the WCRHL regionals. The Spartans had topped the regular season division standings with a 13-3 record.
NAU and Arizona finished two standings points behind San Jose State.
Twenty teams will compete for this year’s Division II national title.
University of Arizona photos/Richard Parrish
— Phillip Brents
(April 11, 2018)