Arizona teams head to collegiate inline hockey nationals
Nine teams from the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) will be out to win championship titles in their respective divisions at April’s National Collegiate Roller Hockey Championship tournament in Ft. Myers, Fla.
Among the nine WCRHL teams competing in the April 5-9 event are three teams from Arizona: Arizona State University in Division I and the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona in Division II.
Arizona enters the fray as two-time WCRHL Division II regional champions.
All three teams have been tightening up on all the little things since the WCRHL regional tournament the first weekend in March and all feel they are ready to do battle with some of the nation’s top collegiate teams.
When asked what it takes to be successful at nationals, WCRHL director and National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) executive director Brennan Edwards was quick to formulate an answer: discipline, smart play and roster depth.
“There are talented teams in each division, but it will come down to how often you are on the power play and penalty kill, as the top teams can score at will when on the power play,” Edwards explained. “Teams with shorter benches will find it more difficult as the top few teams have large benches and will wear you out by the third period.”
Teams will play round-robin matches during preliminary play, then advance to single-elimination bracket play based on preliminary-round seeding.
“All teams get seeded into the brackets regardless of their round-robin finish,” Edwards said.
Edwards said teams are seeded into the elimination brackets based on their round-robin results. However, he said that in each division the pools lay into the brackets slightly differently.
“Basically in Division I and Division II, the top two pools are seeds 1, 3, 5, 7 in Pool A and 2, 4, 6, 8 in Pool B, and then in all other pools a mix of teams 9 through the end. In Division III, the pools are A: 1, 2, 3, 4; B: 5, 6, 7, 8; C: 9, 10, 11, 12,” said Edwards.
A total of 21 teams are competing in five pools in Division I. Pool play starts April 5 and concludes with the national championship game on April 8.
Arizona State University is competing with Florida Gulf Coast University, University of Massachusetts and University of Rhode Island in Pool C.
Florida Gulf Coast finished 7-1 in regular season play in the Southeastern Collegiate Roller Hockey League (SECRHL) while UMass and Rhode Island finished 13-5 and 11-6-0-1, respectively, in the Eastern Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (ECRHA) regular season standings.
There are 20 teams competing in five pools in Division II. Pool play starts April 5 and concludes with the national championship game on April 9.
The University of Arizona is set to battle the University of Arkansas, Kansas State University and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in Pool B. The Wildcats will face off pool play against a trio of defending regional champions.
Arkansas (12-3 in the regular season) won the Southwest Collegiate Hockey League (SCHL) regional championship while Kansas State (14-2 in the regular season) captured the Great Plains Collegiate Inline Hockey League (GPCIHL) regional title. Tennessee (8-3-0-1 in the regular season) defeated East Carolina, 3-2, to win the Southeastern regional championship.
Northern Arizona University joins Louisiana Tech, Ohio State University and State University of New York at Oswego in Pool E. The Lumberjacks will face off pool play against a trio of teams that finished runner-up in their respective regional championships.
Louisiana Tech finished runner-up (to Arkansas) in the Southwest regional while Ohio State University finished runner-up in the Midwest Collegiate Roller Hockey League (MCRHL) regional and Oswego finished runner-up to Northeastern University in the ECRHA regional.
Defending national champions include Neumann University (Division I), UMass (Division II), Lindenwood University (Division III) and St. Charles Community College (JC Division).
Edwards sees Farmingdale State, Neumann University and Lindenwood panning out as the top three teams in Division I.
Farmingdale State defeated Neumann, 5-4, to capture this year’s ECRHA regional championship.
Lindenwood has advanced to three of the last four Division I national championship games and has won 10 Division I titles overall.
As for the prospects of the WCRHL’s three Arizona teams?
ASU’s Division I team finished regular season play with three players (Ryan Cotton, Wes Fry and Jayme Haveman) who scored 20 or more points and two more players (Travis Ringeman and Stetson Dirks) who each tacked on 15 points.
Cotton led the team with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) and four game-winning goals, while Fry (11 goals, nine assists) and Haveman (10 goals, 10 assists) each racked up 20 points.
Ringeman (11 goals, four assists) and Dircks (seven goals, eight assists) each collected 15 points. Trevor Weinstock (five goals, eight assists) also collected 13 points.
Goaltender Braxton Schulz turned in a solid season with a 3.56 GAA with a division-leading two shutouts and division-leading .857 save percentage.
The Sun Devils came within a 1-0 loss to Cal Poly SLO in the semifinals of advancing to this year’s regional championship game against UC Santa Barbara.
“Our goal all year was to get better throughout the season, and grow as a unit,” ASU coach Nick Boyarsky explained. “I believe we have done that. Both leading up to regionals and at practices since, the team has been working on key system tweaks and special teams improvement.
“We played a very tight regionals with Poly (1-0 loss in the semifinals) and UCSB (4-3 loss in pool play), and I think we’re prepared to do the same at nationals. The goal here, like any other weekend, is to face it game by game and reevaluate and adjust as we do so.
“Senior Braxton Schulz, our goalie, has had a fantastic year, and is playing the strongest of his four years in the program. We’ll be relying on him to continue that play. Forwards Jacob Romo and Wes Fry will also be relied on to give us full strength scoring as well as being key parts of our special teams.”
ASU finished runner-up to Lindenwood University at the 2010 nationals
The University of Arizona finished 11-3-0-2 in third place in the WCRHL’s regular season Division II standings but rallied, as was the case last year, to battle back to win the regional championship title in overtime.
Team leaders for the Wildcats during the regular season included Jesse Rooney (21 goals, 44 points), Jacob Toro (19 goals, 34 points) and Taylor Knight (15 goals, 33 points). Six players chipped in with game-winning goals this season. Toro led the team with three game-winners.
Goaltender Brett Bushnell appeared in all 16 regular season games, posting an 11-5-0 record with one shutout, a 3.37 GAA and .834 save percentage.
At regionals, Arizona lost its opening two pool games (4-3 in overtime to Northern Arizona University and 6-3 to CSU Fullerton) but finished the tournament with three consecutive wins, including wins over both Fullerton (7-5 in the semifinals) and NAU (5-4 in overtime in the finals).
“Going into nationals our biggest concern is our special teams,” Bushnell explained. “That has been our weakest link in our game and it has hurt us in a few games during the regular season. We also need to watch our discipline during the games. During our first game against CSU Fullerton at the regional championships, we were in the box eight times, which is exactly half the game. A lot of teams we will be playing in Ft. Myers will be able to capitalize on that, so we need to be aware of that.
“Playing in a national championship tournament is very exciting. You are playing against only the top teams in your league, all of which have the same goal as you, to make it to the championship game. The atmosphere of it all too is amazing. The league does a really nice job with making you feel like you’re in the big time by getting these arenas for us to play in, as well as having official ID badges for all players and coaches.”
Northern Arizona University posted a fifth-place regular season showing with its 6-9-0-1 record but rocked the division with a runner-up finish at regionals. The first-year team – led by veterans Trevor Riffey and Austin Cannon – is looking to make some noise at the NCRHA nationals.
Riffey, who had prior playing experience with Long Beach State, led NAU in regular season scoring with 30 goals and 41 points. He racked up seven power play goals in 15 games.
Cannon (formerly with the University of Arizona) finished fourth in team scoring with 12 goals and 16 points. He led the team with 37 penalty minutes and notched two game-winning goals.
Riffey had more than double the points of the next high scorer on the team — Jordy Maugeri (6 goals, 17 points). Sam Fleming finished third on the team with 16 points to match Cannon. Camden Taylor (15 points) matched Cannon with two game-winning goals.
Anders Hultgren played in all 16 regular season games with a 6-10 record, 5.65 GAA and .803 save percentage.
The Lumberjacks compiled a 3-2 record at regionals, with both losses by one goal in overtime.
Riffey scored 23 of his team’s 26 goals at regionals. More of the same could enable NAU to leave an imprint in the tournament.
“We just need to play how we did in regionals if we want to make a run at natty’s,” Riffey explained “Giving all we have and taking one game at a time will help us in pool play and hopefully into playoffs as well.
“It’s a little different because we only play one game a day or maybe two, so we have plenty of time to rest in between games unlike some other tournaments throughout the year where we have played six games in two days. This should help us because we don’t really practice at all because we only have a concrete rink; sometimes we get tired after a couple games. This schedule should turn out good for us.
“None of our guys except for Austin and I have ever played in a tournament like this, so it will be fun to be able to compete against some good teams from across the country. We really have nothing to lose. This is our first year in the NCRHA and we already made nationals, so that’s big step in itself but we are hoping to make a big run nonetheless.
“Playing in a national championship tournament like this is a blast. I had the opportunity to play in two natty’s with Long Beach State and it was just a great atmosphere playing and watching teams from all over the place. It’s an intense tournament as every team wants to show that their school is the best, so we have to come to play when we get to Florida.”
Eleven WCRHL teams initially received bids to the nationals following the conclusion of the regional championships. However, four declined due to either high travel costs or late season injuries.
Long Beach State University declined its bid in Division I while ASU, UC Santa Barbara and West Valley College all declined bids in Division III. Fullerton advanced as an alternate in Division III.
ASU’s Boyarsky noted this is the first time since the 2009-10 season that the Sun Devils haven’t fielded a Division III team at the NCRHA nationals.
“Although we were given a bid, the nine-man roster we had started the second semester with was plagued with injuries to the point where, after regionals ended, we just didn’t have the manpower to compete on a national level,” Boyarsky explained. “Our seniors, led by club president Kyle Friedman, battled hard all season; it’s very unfortunate we couldn’t end their ASU stint with a solid run at a national championship.”
Teams traveling to Florida from California include UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in Division I; Chico State and CSU Fullerton in Division II; CSU Fullerton in Division III; and West Valley College in the Junior College Division.
UC Santa Barbara, this year’s WCRHL Division I regional champion, carries an overall 20-2-0-1 record (regular season and playoffs combined) into the Florida nationals event while, in Division II, Chico State is 16-2-0-1 on the season and Fullerton is 15-4.
West Valley finished runner-up at last year’s nationals and, with a core group set to move on to four-year universities next year, the Vikings are highly motivated to win this year’s national championship title.
For tournament updates, visit www.wchrl.com or www.ncrha.org.
— Phillip Brents