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Inline nationals set to showcase Arizona State program

 

ASU_champs

The National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) national championship tournament is set to roll April 10-14 at Bill Gray’s Regional Iceplex in Rochester, N.Y.

The Arizona State University Sun Devils program will once again be showcased among the nation’s elite squads.

ASU, which will field teams in the Division I and Division IV tiers, will be among eight WCRHL programs attending the upcoming event.

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ASU and UC Santa Barbara are both fielding teams in two divisions while Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CSU Fullerton, San Jose State University, Cal Poly Pomona, UC Berkeley and West Valley College also will be represented.

The NCRHA nationals are a culmination of season long competition that began for WCRHL teams back in October.

This year’s tournament will spotlight a realignment of divisions that NCRHA executive director Brennan Edwards, who also serves as WCRHL director, feels should provide more balanced competition throughout the five tiers.

The tournament, which overall include 58 teams, features pool play followed by an elimination bracket.

Eight teams will compete for the Division I championship while 16 teams are entered in the Division II field, 20 teams will compete for the Division III title and 11 teams will compete for the Division IV championship.

Three teams are entered in the Junior College Division tier.

2019_NCRHA_logoEdwards believes the 10 WCRHL teams participating in the tournament will represent themselves well.

“Division I is full of talented teams from top to bottom,” Edwards assessed. “The top three teams are very good. ASU has a leg up on some of the teams having played Lindenwood, Bethel, Michigan State, Slippery Rock and Florida Gulf Coast already. That game played in the regular season means that the team can chalk up a strategy and have a much better chance than if they were going in blind.

“UC Santa Barbara has played Florida Gulf Coast University and Lindenwood but none of the other non-WCRHL Division I teams.”

Edwards said Division II is going to be a “great division.”

“I don’t think anyone can pick a winner at this point,” he said. “Cal Poly and CSU Fullerton are definitely top eight teams, perhaps top four. San Jose State comes in as a lower seed but if they have all the right pieces they will surprise some teams.”

Edwards said both Cal Poly Pomona and UC Berkley could have a leg up on the competition in the newly formatted Division III tier. “If Berkeley has everyone, they are a force,” Edwards said. “Endicott from the northeast is another frontrunner.”

The Junior College Division is anyone’s to win, Edwards noted. “With West Valley, Henry Ford and St. Louis Community College playing, these teams don’t play each other all season long, or even any of the same opponents, so it’s tough to tell,” he said.

Edwards said the Division IV frontrunners are Bethel, Lindenwood and Farmingdale. “It will take an outstanding game from any of the remaining eight teams to bounce any of these three teams in the brackets,” he said.

Valley of the Sun

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ASU co-coach Nick Boyarsky said it will be intriguing to chart the Sun Devils’ course through both the Division I and Division IV brackets.

“Division I will be a tight division with only eight declared teams this year,” Boyarsky explained. “Every game matters and there are no real easy games for anyone. We are encouraged by the team’s healing powers at this point. Knock on wood — all three injured players from the second semester and regionals (Aryeh Richter, Alex MacDonald and Ian Bast) are back to being able to play.

“We only played a couple of games with this whole roster this season, so we’re looking forward to seeing how well we can compete with all guns blazing. Our success will be a result of keeping everyone healthy, sticking to our systems and our goaltender Aaron Gittings playing his top game.”

ASU’s Division I squad enters the national tournament with an overall 16-7 record. Pool match-ups are against Farmingdale State (18-0), Florida Gulf Coast (4-8-1) and Lindenwood (16-1-1).

Chase Steele, one of the team’s impact newcomers, tops ASU in season scoring with 17 goals and 33 points, followed by Bast with 18 goals and 24 points and Wes Fry with 13 goals and 23 points. Fry is one of the team’s second semester additions and has accumulated points in just 12 games while both Steele and Bast have appeared in 19 contests.

Other team scoring leaders include Trevor Weinstock with 21 points, MacDonald with 19 points (in 11 games), Cy Jewell with 18 points, Richter with 18 points, Hayden Knight with 16 points and Paxton Parker with 13 points.

Steele, a talented 18-year-old from Peoria, tops the group with four game-winning goals while Bast has a team-leading four power play goals.

The Division I regionals proved to test the mettle of the Sun Devils’ squad, which entered the tournament already depleted by injuries and was further depleted during the tournament by injuries. Boyarsky noted the team finished its best-of-three championship series against Santa Barbara with “five functioning ankles.”

ASU pulled out the series final, 3-2, on a pair of goals by Fry, three points from Steele and 25 saves by Gittings.

ASU’s Division IV team enters the national championship tournament with a commanding 20-2 record. The Sun Devils will play Slippery Rock (16-5) and Michigan State (16-5) in pool play.

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“We did not see much of any competition in the Division IV division of the WCRHL this year with the ASU Division IV team,” Boyarsky noted. “That is always a challenge as our Division IV teams head to nationals; realizing they have not been tested and have developed a bit of complacency.

“We have spent a lot of the second semester working on how exactly we can stay sharp and keep ourselves challenged to prepare to play the strong Division IV division at nationals.

“The positive part of this year’s roster is that goals come from all around (the line-up), so we will be a level threat which is not the case with many top player heavy Division IV teams. We’ll rely on players like Collin McHugh and Clay Heinze to lead the team both on and off the rink.”

Scoring leaders include McHugh with 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists), John Henze with 38 points (26 goals, 12 assists), Shaun MacDonald with 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists), Miguel Cazares with 33 points (17 goals, 16 assists), Heinze with 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists), Clint Tapsell with 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists) and Jordan Behm with 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists).

Goaltender Scott Keohane is 13-2 with a 2.47 goals-against average, one shutout and a .861 save percentage.

Shaun MacDonald earned Division IV MVP honors at the WCRHL regionals with 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in five games.

McHugh and Henze lead the team with three game-winning goals.

Overall, ASU has outscored opponents 182-58.

The WCRHL regional championship was the sixth in seven years for the ASU development program team.

For pool play brackets and schedules, visit www.ncrha.org.

Photos/WCRHL

— Phillip Brents

(April 8, 2019)