WCRHL crowns quartet of champions at 2022 tournament with national championship event on tap
The Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) held its 2022 championship tournament March 5-6 at Corona Inline.
The event served as one of the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association’s (NCRHA) regional tournaments in advance of the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Championships scheduled April 6-10 at the Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Fifteen teams closed out the 2021-22 WCRHL regular season. Eleven were in action for the championship weekend in Corona.
The Division 1 and Division 2 tiers both featured best-of-three championship series while the Division 3 and Division 4 tiers both featured a preliminary round-robin, then bracket play to determine a division champion.
Arizona State University defeated CSU Fullerton two games to none to capture this year’s Division 1 championship title while Cal Poly San Luis Obispo outlasted Northern Arizona University two games to one to win the Division 2 championship series.
The University of Arizona brushed aside challengers, including runner-up UC Santa Barbara, to claim the Division 3 championship while Arizona State topped the University of Arizona in an all-Arizona final to claim the Division 4 title.
ASU skated past CSU Fullerton by a score of 5-1 in Game 1 of the team’s championship series and sealed the deal with a 5-2 victory in the second game.
“It’s tough to play the same team multiple times all season and keep the urgency and going and have the bar get raised,” ASU program director Nick Boyarsky said. “Fullerton came hungry for an upset every game. We knew our first-period play and our discipline throughout each game would be key to keeping them from pulling off that upset. Our special teams were spot on and as always goaltender Lane Hartwell gave us all the chances we needed to win.”
The Sun Devils swept the three-star awards in Game 1 with Paxton Parker (one goal, two assists) receiving the No. 1 star award, Andrew Hite (one goal, one assist) receiving the No. 2 star award and Hartwell (16 saves on 17 shots, .941 save percentage) receiving the No. 3 star award.
The Sun Devils set the tempo in the contest with five first-period goals to take a commanding 5-0 lead.
Demitiri Vavaroutsos, Mason Parker and Michael Bloom also scored goals for ASU, which received assists from Anthony Paquet, Jaden Nahoi-Baricar, Chase Steele and Hayden Knight.
The Sun Devils also swept the three star awards in Game 2 with Steele (three goals, one assist) as the No. 1 star, Hite (one goal, one assist) as the No. 2 star and Bloom (two assists) as the No. 3 star.
ASU outshot Fullerton in every period to claim a final 22-13 shot advantage, though the game was tied 1-1 early on. Ethan Flores cut the ASU lead to 4-2 with the opening goal in the third period, but Steele closed out scoring in the game at 11:20 with his hat trick goal into an empty net to finalize the Sun Devils’ division championship repeat.
Steele, as the division MVP, finished the two games with three goals and two assists while Hite collected two goals and two assists. Hartwell stopped 27 of 30 shots for a .900 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average.
Fullerton received goals from Victoria Huynh and Jared Nelson and Flores in the two games while Troy Yano and Ryan Tuckwood both collected two assists. Kurt Yano posted a .780 save percentage while stopping 32 of 41 shots.
Steele, Hite and Bloom paced Division 1 scorers with 45, 28 and 27 points, respectively, during the regular season while Troy Yano and Tuckwood followed on the scoreboard with 25 and 24 points, respectively.
Steele topped the division with 25 goals; he also led the division with 20 assists.
Hartwell keyed ASU with a stingy 2.37 goals-against average and .861 save percentage during the regular season while logging 15 wins in 18 game appearances.
Going the distance
All three games in the Division 2 championship series were decided by one goal. Cal Poly claimed Game 1 by a score of 4-3 as E.J. Gabriel scored nine seconds into overtime while NAU captured Game 2 by an equally tight score of 6-5.
Cal Poly needed the extra game to slip past the Lumberjacks 6-5 to claim the division title.
Ethan Vernik collected the assist on the game-winning goal en route to earning the No. 1 star in Game 1 with one goal and two assists. NAU’s Max Reeves scored two goals to receive the No. 2 star award while Cal Poly’s Nathan Katzaroff (two assists) was named the game’s third star.
Undaunted by the opening loss, the Lumberjacks regrouped to even the series at a win apiece as Reeves amassed three goals and two assists as the No. 1 star in Game 2. Katzaroff racked up three goals and one assist in the loss to earn the No. 2 star award while Brayden Kohler picked up the third star award for NAU with two goals and one assist.
The Lumberjacks erased a 5-4 Cal Poly lead with the only two goals in the third period. Kohler tied the game 5-5 with a power-play goal, assisted by Jaden Guzman and Reeves. NAU sealed the victory on Reeves’ hat trick goal just past the midway mark in the period.
Game 3 had both teams on pins and needles awaiting the outcome.
Northern Arizona opened up a furious 4-1 first-period lead but was unable to make the score stick in ultimately rolling to the runner-up finish.
Ryan Fehrenbach opened scoring for the Mustangs, followed by unanswered goals from Reeves, Jorden Werner, Luc Spinasanta and Guzman.
The teams fought through six penalties in the second period with Cal Poly capitalizing on special teams play with a short-handed goal by Nick Blakewell and a power-play goal by Katzaroff to edge closer on the scoreboard at 4-3.
NAU took a 5-3 lead on a goal by Antonio Buck, assisted by Reeves, at the 27-second mark to face off the third period. But the final period was not kind to the Lumberjacks as the Mustangs rallied with three consecutive goals, including two by Katzaroff – the division MVP – 24 seconds apart late in the game, to steal the win and the championship series.
Both of Cal Poly’s victories came in come-from-behind fashion in a series was too close to call. The Mustangs trailed 2-0 in Game 1 before rallying to score four of the last five goals in the contest. Cal Poly trailed 4-1 in Game 3 before rallying to score five of the last six goals in the series finale.
“NAU gave us a hell of a fight, all three games were decided by one goal,” said Blakewell, who serves as Cal Poly club president. “I couldn’t be more proud of the boys to rally in the third period and come back from 4-1 to win it. We have a few things to work on before nationals but I like the group we have and I know we’re all psyched for Michigan.”
Katzaroff was the top scorer in the series for Cal Poly with six goals and three assists while Reeves tallied six goals and four assists to lead NAU.
“Cal Poly played a great series, and never gave up when we had them down,” said NAU goaltender and San Diego native Jakob Ogan. “It was some great hockey being played from both sides.”
Regular season division leaders included Guzman and Reeves with 40 and 33 points, respectively, for Northern Arizona. Reeves paced division scorers with 21 goals while Guzman led with 28 assists.
Katzaroff and Sam Blakewell led Cal Poly in season scoring with 25 and 23 points, respectively. Katzaroff ranked second in the division with 19 goals.
The goaltending between the Mustangs and Lumberjacks was fairly comparable. Jack Conlon recorded a 3.74 GAA and a .799 save percentage with one shutout in 13 games for Cal Poly while NAU’s Ogan registered a 4.25 GAA and a .820 save percentage in 14 games. Conlon picked up eight wins while Ogan had seven.
The Division 3 playoff format featured a four-team round-robin, followed by a semifinal elimination game and a standalone championship game.
The University of Arizona (regular-season leaders) completed round-robin play undefeated at 3-0 while UC Santa Barbara finished 2-1, Cal Poly Pomona finished 1-2 and UCLA finished 0-3. The net result was that Arizona received the No. 1 seed for elimination bracket play while Santa Barbara received the No. 2 seed and Pomona received the No. 3 seed. UCLA was eliminated from the playoffs.
Santa Barbara defeated Pomona 10-3 in a playoff game to determine the championship opponent against the Arizona.
The Wildcats completed a sweep of their four games in Corona with a 10-3 win over Santa Barbara in the division final.
Arizona swept the three star awards in each of its four games, starting with a 12-2 win over UCLA in which Hudson Fox received first star honors with four goals and two assists, Dylan Smith received second star honors with three goals and three assists and Saahil Ahuja received third star honors with two goals and three assists.
The Wildcats shut out Cal Poly Pomona 6-0 in their second round-robin game. Smith grabbed first star honors with two goals and one assist while Ahuja was the game’s second star with one goal and two assists and Adam Pramuka was the game’s third star with two assists. Ethan Zorbas posted a nine-save shutout as Arizona piled up a 28-9 edge in shots.
The Wildcats had to claw their win to a tight 6-4 win over UC Santa Barbara in their final round-robin game to secure the No. 1 seed for the elimination playoffs.
Smith (two goals, one assist), Fox (two goals) and Jack Sapra (two goals) were the three stars of the game, in that order.
Santa Barbara defeated Pomona (15-2) and UCLA (10-2) in round-robin play to advance to the semifinal.
Reyes LeGrande tallied six goals and three assists and teammate Brad Price also racked up nine points on two goals and seven assists to pace Santa Barbara past Pomona in the teams’ round-robin matchup while LeGrande followed up with three goals and three assists and Price notched three goals and two assists in the ensuing round-robin victory against UCLA.
Price dazzled spectators with five goals and three assists while LeGrande had two goals and two assists in the semifinal win.
The three stars in the championship game for Arizona included Ahuja with two goals and three assists as the No. 1 star, Sapra with three goals as the No. 2 star, and Fox with two goals and one assist as the No. 3 star.
LeGrande scored two of the three Santa Barbara goals while Zorbas stopped 16 of 19 shots to boost the Wildcats.
“Our game with Santa Barbara during round robin was closer than we expected, and we knew we had to step it up in the finals game to make sure we won the championship,” said U of A club president Griffin Sherwood, whose team enters nationals with an overall 15-3 record and 10-game winning streak. “It was incredibly rewarding to lift the cup after the successful season we’ve had. Our entire team is dedicated, works hard, practices and wants to win.”
Ahuja was named the Division 3 MVP.
“It was well deserved as he has led the team in points, played lock-down defense and kept the team fired up on the bench,” Sherwood said.
Price fired up his team with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in the Titans’ five games while LeGrande tallied 23 points (14 goals, nine assists).
Price paced the division during the regular season with 25 goals and 44 points while UCLA’s Rishi Patel ranked second with 43 points (and led wit 22 assists). LeGrande ranked third with 36 points, showing there was no shortage of scoring prowess on the playing court.
Zorbas keyed all division goaltenders with a 2.00 GAA and a .902 save percentage in 12 games, posting 10 wins between the pipes.
Battle of Arizona
The Division IV championship format featured a three-team round-robin with the top two seeds playing for the title.
ASU won all three of its games while outscoring opponents 16-3 over the weekend in Corona.
“Our Division 4 group has really bonded and come together during the second semester,” Boyarsky said. “That was seen in the efforts of all eight skaters and our goalie throughout the weekend. Points came from every player on the roster in our three regionals games, which is how we like to see things go. Having to defend against all eight of our players versus one or two threats made this a very hard team to beat.
“I would also say it was very cool to see Arizona teams win three of the four finals and represent the state in each division’s championship game. It speaks volumes to how strong the sport is here in Arizona.”
The Sun Devils defeated Fullerton (6-1) and Arizona (7-1) in their two round-robin games to advance to the championship game while Arizona topped Fullerton (7-2) to advance from round-robin play.
The championship game was closer between the intra-state rivals with ASU pulling out a 3-1 victory.
Gino Rossetto keyed with two goals and one assist while Jacob Crayne had one goal and one assist.
Rossetto was the Sun Devils’ high point man with eight goals and three assists in the three games, including a game-high four goals and one assist in the 7-1 round-robin win over the Wildcats, to earn recognition as the division MVP.
Weston Walker posted a 1.00 GAA and a .941 save percentage (48 saves on 51 shots) in the three games, including 13 saves on 14 shots in the final.
Joey Misico (two goals, three assists) and Maxwell Chase (one goal, four assists) both tallied five points in the win for the Wildcats in the round-robin win over Fullerton to eliminate the Titans.
The Sun Devils won all five season matchups against Arizona (three regular season and two playoff).
“ASU and U of A’s Division 4 teams have had close games all season, so we knew it would be a good game,” Sherwood said. “The game was a two-goal difference (2-0 for Arizona State) until late in the third period, when we were able to score, leading to a 2-1 game. We pulled our goalie, but we were unfortunately not able to score and lost the game 3-1. Despite that, the D4 team had a fantastic season and worked very hard at regionals.”
Regular-season division leaders included Chase (26 goals, 41 points) and Zachary Kavanagh (16 assists), both in 10 games. ASU’s Skyler Sanchez ranked second in both points (33) and goals (21) in 13 games while Chase was second with 15 assists.
Arizona’s Rene LeBlanc won the goaltender battle with a 2.68 GAA and .854 save percentage ahead of ASU’s Walker (2.75 GAA, 0.826 SPCT). Walker posted seven wins while LeBlanc had six.
Eight WCRHL teams will face off play at the 2022 National Collegiate Roller Hockey Championships in Michigan.
ASU, Fullerton and Cal Poly are among the 12 teams in the combined Division 1/Division 2 field while Arizona and Santa Barbara are included among 12 teams in the Division 3 field. Arizona and Fullerton will represent the WCRHL in the six-team Division 4 field.
Format changes include a round-robin between Division 1 and Division 2 teams, with the top four teams breaking away to play for the Division 1 championship and the next four teams playing for the Division 2 title.
ASU (18-3 on the season overall, 16-1 in WCRHL play) heads to Kalamazoo with some much-needed insight against out-of-region teams by participating in an inter-regional tournament Feb. 5-6 in suburban Chicago.
“We went to Chicago to expose our team to what top Division 1 teams like Michigan State and Lindenwood would be like at nationals,” Boyarsky said. “Our practices have been based around improving in the areas we struggled in when playing both of those teams. We believe the team will be more prepared come nationals to face those types of teams again.
“As to the format, the disparity between the top Division 2 teams and the middle/bottom Division 1 teams is almost nonexistent. This format is probably the best solution to the position the league put itself in this fall when they let teams rank themselves. Any one of those top Division 2 teams could upset a Division 1 team, which makes nationals even more exciting.”
ASU will face Fullerton, Stony Brook and Bethel University in round-robin play while Fullerton will also tangle with U-Mass and Northeastern University before the Division 1/Division 2 split.
Cal Poly has a challenging schedule that includes Lindenwood University, Michigan State and Robert Morris University to start round-robin play.
Arizona’s three round-robin games to face off Division 3 play include matchups against while Santa Barbara will meet Ohio State, Endicott College and University of Tampa in round-robin play.
The Division 4 round-robin schedule features matchups against Lindenwood, Michigan State and UMass for both Arizona and Fullerton.
West Valley College (9-5 with two overtime losses) bypassed the WCRHL championship tournament to advance directly to the NCRJA nationals in a best-of-five championship series against Henry Ford College to determine this year’s JC Division national champion.
Sebastien Paquet topped the Vikings in scoring with 21 goals and 35 points in 16 games while Chase Edward ranked second with 15 goals and 23 points in just eight games. Luke Benavente was the goaltending leader with five wins, a 3.86 goals-against average and a .834 save percentage.
For more information and updated scores, visit www.wcrhl.com and www.ncrha.org.
— Phillip Brents
(April 5, 2022)