Arizona teams make memories at NCRHA national tournament
Nine teams from the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) made the trek to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, April 6-10 to compete in the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) national championship tournament.
Included in the group were two teams representing Arizona State University and a University of Arizona squad fresh off a history-making regional championship performance.
None of the teams came home with championship trophies, but they did bring back a lot of battle scars – and memories.
The NCRHA tournament once again proved to be very competitive. Arizona State finished 1-3 in the Division I field, while Arizona finished 0-4 in its Division II bracket. ASU’s Division III team also went 0-4.
After rolling to a 13-1-2 second-place showing in the WCRHL regular season Division I standings, injuries hit the Sun Devils at the wrong time of the season as ASU rolled to a 1-7 finish in eight playoff games – four at the WCRHL regional championships and four at the NCRHA finals.
ASU coach Nick Boyarsky suggested the Sun Devils’ 2-1 overtime loss in the semifinals at the regional tournament to regular season champion UNLV – despite the team’s health issues – was an indicator of how competitive ASU would be at nationals.
“I felt we still competed extremely well against the other three WCRHL teams at regionals with all their guns blazing,” Boyarsky explained.
ASU’s draw at the NCRHA tournament was tough.
The Sun Devils opened Division I pool play with a 6-1 loss to Michigan State University, then defeated Farmingdale State College 4-3 before dropping an 8-2 decision to Lindenwood University, last year’s Division I national championship runner-up team.
Farmingdale State won last year’s Division II national championship title before moving up to the Division I ranks, while Michigan State would advance as far as this year’s Division I semifinals, losing to eventual Division I champion Neumann University.
Based on the strength of its pool schedule, ASU received a bye to the Sweet Sixteen round, but ended its season with a 4-3 playoff loss to Florida Gulf Coast. Nic Spinasanta paced the Sun Devils with a pair of goals in the game.
Overall, Ryan Cotton keyed ASU with 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in the team’s eight playoff games.
The WCRHL’s three representatives in the Division II field all ended their seasons in the Sweet Sixteen round. Chico State dropped a 5-4 decision to Florida, while the University of Tennessee-Knoxville edged the University of Arizona 4-3 and CSU Fullerton lost 3-1 to East Carolina.
“Arizona looked to be the most hopeful of moving on in the bracket by being up by one goal late in the third period,” explained Brennan Edwards, who serves dual roles as WCRHL director and NCRHA executive director. “But they took a holding penalty and the tying goal was quickly scored. Add one final goal and it was a 4-3 loss. Arizona pulled the goaltender with just over one minute remaining, but were unable to get any quality chances to tie it up.”
Jesse Rooney, John Gallo and Blake Wofford scored goals in the quarterfinal setback. Rooney added three goals in the Wildcats’ four games at the NCRHA tournament.
After a 15-1 regular season and regional championship showing, Boyarsky felt April’s NCRHA national championship tournament would offer a good test for ASU’s Division I development team.
It did. The Sun Devils faced a challenging start by facing last year’s two finalists – Lindenwood Gold and Neumann – in pool play, losing by a combined score of 13-2.
After a 0-3 showing in pool play, ASU then ended its season with a 5-1 loss to Bethel in the Division III quarterfinals.
Lindenwood Gold went on to defeat Michigan State 4-3 to win its sixth consecutive Division III national championship title. The Sun Devils lost 6-1 to Michigan State in pool play.
— Phillip Brents