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ACHA training camps ready to face off upcoming 2023-24 season


The 2023-24 American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) season is a month away, and coaches have obviously been working hard over the off-season putting together training camp rosters.

San Diego State University has scheduled tryouts Aug. 26-29 at the Kroc Center Ice Arena. Aztec head coach Phil Bateman is hoping his team’s second season at the Division 1 level is more prosperous than last season’s 1-20-1 inaugural foray into the division.

“Ultimately, it’s a field of dreams scenario,” Bateman said. “As painful as last year was on the ice with our results, we needed to ‘build it’ so this year they would all come. The collection of incoming, extremely talented players this year are so excited to take on this challenge and be a part of the upward trajectory.”

Bateman expects 45 to 50 players at tryouts, an impressive number as the team continues to build its Division 1 base.

SDSU remains the lone Division 1 ACHA team in California and offers a steppingstone to higher levels of play in the sport.

The team continues to draw interest both inside and outside of the Golden State..

“The 2023-24 Aztecs will be a completely new-look team compared to last season, with only eight to nine returning players,” Bateman said. “We do expect 45-plus bodies at tryouts, with a talented group from within the state, out of state and international players trying out.”

A highlight of SDSU’s inaugural Division 1 season in 2022-23 featured a road trip to Buffalo, N.Y., to participate in the annual Canisius tournament.

The other highlight was obviously its first Division 1 win in team history.

The Aztecs entered their final home stand Feb. 17-18 against George Mason University with a numbing 0-19-1 record. SDSU pulled out a thrilling 5-3 victory with late third period goals by Nolan Conrad and Luke Desmarais to snap a 3-3 tie.

Shane Ege, Ian Stentz and Michael Eng also scored for the host team while Isaiah Tano and Kim each picked up two assists. Michael Pellegrino, the team’s season scoring leader with 22 points (three goals, 19 assists) in 22 games, also drew a helper in support of Parks Owensby, the winning goaltender, who made 26 saves on 29 shots.

“The guys celebrated like they had just won the Stanley Cup,” Bateman recalled.

But the celebration was mixed with a dose of reality as GMU won the season-ending game 9-3.

Aztec opponents for the upcoming season include Colorado Boulder, Colorado State, George Mason University, U.S. Naval Academy, Arizona State University, University of Arizona, Grand Canyon University, UNLV, University of Utah and University of Oregon.

SDSU will once again compete as an independent.

Home games remain at the Kroc Center Ice Arena.

Bateman remains optimistic about the upcoming season with a much larger and deeper recruiting class to take on Division 1 opponents.

“I don’t think anyone in the division wanted us to go through the season without a win,” the SDSU bench boss said. “After we beat George Mason, I received emails from 12 programs congratulating us. That was good to get respect.”

Nationals rewind

In an historic move, the ACHA held all five of its 2023 divisional championships under one roof March 16-21 at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Mass.

Division champions included Minot State (Men Division 1), UMass-Amherst (Men Division 2), University of Michigan (Men Division 3), Liberty University (Women Division 1) and Sault College (Women Division 2).

It marked the fifth consecutive national championship, sixth overall, for Liberty University (26-2-1) and the third national championship for Minot State (30-2-0). Sault College finished an undefeated season with 31 consecutive victories.

A total of 78 teams competed across all five divisions, totaling 113 games over the six days.

Twenty teams qualified for the M1 championship tournament. Among them were two teams from the West Division of the Western Collegiate Hockey League (WCHL): the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Skatin’ Rebels (ranked fourth) and the University of Arizona Wildcats (ranked 11th).

Both UNLV and Arizona finished among the top 20 teams in the final M1 regular season rankings. However, when the eight automatic qualifiers (conference champions) were factored into the top 20 rankings, four teams had to be dropped from the invitation list to nationals: the University of Utah (ranked 17th) and Arizona State University (ranked 20th) among them.

M1 teams were seeded according to the final regular season rankings with fourth-seeded UNLV taking on 13th-seeded Grand Valley State in the opening round and 11th-seeded Arizona meeting sixth-seeded Central Oklahoma University.

The Skatin’ Rebels defeated Grand Valley State, 4-3, in overtime to start their championship quest while Central Oklahoma put a damper on the Wildcats’ tournament odyssey with a 6-1 victory.

UNLV rallied with two goals in the third period to send the game into overtime. Cole Wyatt, with assists from Kyle Quinn and Paxton Malone, put the Skatin’ Rebels on the scoreboard. Caleb Strong scored both third-period goals, including one on a power play, to set up teammate Robert McCollum’s game-winner at 15:04 of the sudden-victory period.

UNLV held a 47-39 shot advantage with winning goaltender Landon Pavlisin making 36 saves.

The win advanced UNLV (25-4-1) to a second-round match-up against fifth-seeded Liberty University. The Skatin’ Rebels trailed 2-0 before Malone, assisted by Mattias Dal Monte and Nicolas Flanders, halved the deficit. But Liberty (17-11-2) tacked on an empty net goal with 19 seconds remaining in regulation to stifle the UNLV comeback bid in a 3-1 victory.

Both teams finished with 37 shots, with Pavlisin, who back-stopped JSerra Catholic in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (ADHSHL), credited with 34 saves.

The Wildcats fell behind 3-0 in their tournament opener, narrowed the score to 3-1 on a second-period goal by Nicholas Chiocca, but Central Oklahoma countered with a goal to end the period with a 4-1 lead and added two more goals in the third period.

Arizona out-shot Central Oklahoma 28-24 but three power play goals proved the difference for the Bronchos (29-8-1). Nolan Bivolcic stopped 18 of 24 pucks between the pipes for the Wildcats (16-10-4).

Dylan Walker and Cameron Teamor drew the assists on the lone Arizona goal.

Arizona, Arizona State, Grand Canyon, UNLV and Utah comprise the West Division in the 10-team WCHL. The WCHL’s East Division includes Colorado, Colorado State, Missouri State, Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma.

In a show of force, seven of the WCHL’s 10 teams ended the 2022-23 season ranked among the top 25 teams in the division.

Following the conclusion of the ACHA national championships, UNLV finished fifth in the final 2022-23 M1 rankings while Central Oklahoma was sixth, Arizona was 11th, Utah (15-10-1) was 18th, Arizona State (16-16-1) was 21st, Missouri State (15-15-2) was 22nd and Grand Canyon University (13-12-2) was 23rd.

A total of 70 M1 teams competed in 2022-23. The number will increase to 71 in 2023-24 with the addition of the University of Mary from the M2 registry.

ASU’s women’s team completed a successful fund-raiser to compete in the ACHA Women’s Division 1 national championship tournament. The seventh-seeded Lady Sun Devils (17-16-2) finished with losses to sixth-seeded Maryville University and 10th-seeded Miami University by scores of 2-0 and 3-2, respectively.

ASU’s W1 team finished as Western Women’s Collegiate Hockey League (WWCHL) champions to earn its first bid to the national championship tournament.

Top scorers in the regular season included Mason Walker with 20 goals and nine assists (29 points) assists in 24 games and Sydney Paulsen with 14 goals and 13 assists (27 points) in 24 games.

Karsyn Hellman recorded a 10-2 record with a 1.56 goals-against average and 0.931 save percentage in 15 regular season appearances.

M2 recap

The Pac-8 and West Coast Hockey Conference (WCHC) supplied five teams between them to last season’s 12-team Division 2 West Region tournament in Salt Lake City.

Pac-8 qualifiers included the seventh-seeded University of Washington (Pac-8 champion), ninth-seeded University of Utah (Pac-8 tournament runner-up, second seed conference tournament) and 13th-seeded UC-Berkeley (third seed conference tournament).

WCHC qualifiers included 10th-seeded UCLA (WCHC runner-up, top seed conference tournament) and 11th-seeded Grand Canyon University (WCHC tournament champion, second seed conference tournament).

Grand Canyon University defeated UCLA, 3-2, on a goal by Alexander Dmitiyev with eight seconds left in regulation to cap a thrilling 10-team WCHC playoff tournament Feb. 9-12 at The Cube in Santa Clarita, home ice of the Bruins.

As the WCHC 2022-23 champion, the Antelopes secured the conference’s automatic bid to the regional tournament while UCLA was selected as an at-large team. The ACHA M2 West region tournament took place Feb. 23-25 hosted by the University of Utah.

The WCHC championship playoffs featured all six Tier 1 squads, the top three Tier 2 South teams (out of six teams) and the first place Tier 2 North team (four of four teams).

The four Tier 2 teams (North and South divisions combined) met first in an elimination round, with the two winners joining the six Tier 1 teams in an ensuing eight-team bracket featuring quarterfinals, semifinals and a championship game.

Seeding was as follows: No. 1 UCLA, No. 2, Grand Canyon University, No. 3 Arizona State University, No. 4 Loyola Marymount University, No. 5 Northern Arizona University, No. 6 Long Beach State, No. 7 CSU-Northridge, No. 8 UC Santa Barbara, No. 9 CSU Fullerton and No. 10 Santa Clara University.

Three games ended in upsets, including the championship game.

“What a great season,” LMU general manager Tyler Goeckner Zoeller underscored. “Throughout the year the Tier 1 teams were evenly split; it came down to the final weekend to determine seeding.

“In the playoffs, NAU upset LMU (No. 4 versus No. 5) and Long Beach (No. 6) had the big upset, taking down ASU (No. 3) in a third-period comeback. GCU (No. 2) had their first amazing game, coming back against NAU in the semis, scoring the winner with two seconds left in the game. And then in the finals, GCU again came back, from down 2-1, and won the game on a shot with eight seconds left.

“Congrats to GCU and UCLA, both of which made regionals, but unfortunately had to play each other in the first round. ASU, LMU, NAU were right there for regionals, too, ASU being the first one left out.”

In the elimination round on Feb. 9, CSUN raced past Santa Clara, 16-3, after both teams had split two non-league regular season games. Likewise, Santa Barbara and Fullerton had split their regular season matchups, with Santa Barbara advancing to the next round with a narrow 6-5 playoff win.

Geno Norraik led the offensive assault for Northridge with eight points (three goals, five assists) while Isaac Anderson (four goals, two assists) and Christian Parks (three goals, three assists) both chipped in with six points.

Both UCLA and GCU handily won their quarterfinal games on Feb. 10 with the top-seed Bruins doubling up UCSB by a score of 6-3 and GCU skating past CSUN, 7-4.

Gannon Kligora paced GCU with two goals and one assist while Trevor Mertel scored twice and Aidan Tucker tacked on a goal and assist.

UCLA out-shot Santa Barbara 51-37 as Duke Fishman racked up three goals, John Ilvento collected three assists. Owen Sweeney tacked on two assists while Justin Kaufman had a goal and assist. The hat trick gave Fishman 23 goals on the season. Bruins goaltender Brendan Kim made 34 saves on 37 shots.

Ryan Greenberg stopped 45 of 51 shots for the Gauchos, who received single goals from Fernando Sansone, Ryan Schmitz and Nishay Chitale.

Arizona and Long Beach split their season series as did LMU and NAU, lending some definite intrigue to their quarterfinal matchups. Both lower-seeded teams won.

NAU topped LMU, 5-2, while Long Beach pulled off a 4-3 upset against ASU.

NAU received a hat trick from Riley Wise in its win over LMU while Long Beach State netted three third period goals (one each by Allen Howland, Jason Barber and Brandon Hoeksema) to erase a 2-1 Sun Devils lead.

The semifinals on Feb. 11 were re-seeded with the remaining higher-seeded teams meeting the remaining lower seeded teams. Both games were close.

UCLA shut out Long Beach State, 3-0, while GCU handed NAU a heart-breaking 2-1 defeat by scoring the game-winning goal with just two seconds remaining in regulation.

Ilvento, Geoffrey Xu and Alexander Moroz each scored goals to pace the Bruins in the shutout win while Jake Kovinsky turned aside all 21 shots he faced. UCLA out-shot Long Beach 50-21 with Brian Parsons making 47 saves in the loss for the Forty-Niners.

The other semifinal was tight as well with the opening period scoreless between the Antelopes and IceJacks.

NAU’s bid for another upset win looked bright after Ryan Treanor scored his 16th goal of the season for the only goal of the second period.  But GCU prevailed with two clutch goals in the third period. Kligora netted his 18th goal of the season at 7:34, assisted by Nicholas Brody and Shane Edwards, on the power play.

The game remained tied, 1-1, between the two Arizona teams deep into the third period until Brody tallied the game-winner with time about to expire to catapult the Antelopes into the championship game.

The championship game capped tournament play on Feb. 12 and was a classic..

The Antelopes out-shot the Bruins 33-27 in an exceptionally tightly-played contest. There was no scoring in the first period before GCU finally netted the game’s jump goal by Chase Schachle (his fifth of the season) at 6:10 to start the second period.

Moroz scored his 13th goal of the season at 16:10 to tie the game, 1-1, and scored his 14th goal of the season at 19:07 to push UCLA into a 2-1 lead.

The third period featured two goals – both by GCU for the final upset of the championship tournament. Brody scored his third goal of the season at 5:24 to knot the score between the teams at 2-2. Ethan Poole drew the assist on the power play goal.

Hunter Lashinger and Kligora assisted on the game-winner, officially scored at 19:52. The game-winner was Dmitriyev’s fifth goal of the season. Anderson stopped 25 of 27 shots to post the win between the pipes while Kim stopped 30 of 33 shots.

The West regional lineup included seeds three through 14 with two additional teams (first and second seeds) byed to the national tournament. The top two finishing teams at the regional advanced to provide the West with four representatives in Massachusetts.

UCLA enacted a measure of revenge at the regional tournament with a 4-1 victory against GCU to advance to meet fourth-seeded Utah State in the quarterfinals.

UCLA’s season ended with a 7-3 loss to Utah State. The Bruins finished 18-9-1-0-1-0 overall (win, loss, overtime loss, tie, shootout win, shootout loss) while GCU finished 15-10-3-0-0-1.

Fishman finished the Bruins’ two games at the regional tournament with five points on four goals and one assist to earn second team all-region honors. Utah State goaltender Titan Anderson received a nod on the all-region third team.

Fishman finished the regular season with 44 points (23 goals, 21 assists) in 28 games with three game-winning goals.

Cal-Berkeley, seeded 13th at regionals, lost its opening game, 8-3, to eighth-seeded University of Northern Colorado. The Bears finished the season 14-4-2-0-0-0 overall.

Utah State and Dakota College-Bottineau were the two qualifiers from the regional tournament, joining top-seeded University of Mary and second-seeded Montana State University at nationals. Utah State defeated 12th-seeded MSU Denver, 3-2, while Dakota College tipped Northern Colorado in the other regional semifinal by a score of 3-2.

Of the 10 games played at regionals, three ended in upsets by lower-seeded teams while four games were decided by one goal to emphasize the parity that existed at this year’s tournament.

At nationals, the University of Mary posted two wins against one loss. The Marauders opened with a 5-0 victory against Bentley University, then topped the University of Kentucky by a score of 3-1. The University of Saint Thomas upended the University of Mary, 3-2, in overtime to end the Marauders’ season at 36-6-2-1-1-0.

Montana State (26-6-0-0-0-0) finished 1-2 with an opening 6-4 over the University of New Hampshire and subsequent losses to Indiana University and Lindenwood University by scores of 6-4 and 4-3, respectively.

Utah State (24-10-4-0-3-0) finished 1-2 with identical 5-0 losses to Northeastern University and Liberty University and an 8-4 setback to the University of Iowa while Dakota College lost 3-2 to UMass, 5-2 to Florida Gulf Coast University and 8-0 to Concordia University of Wisconsin.

The ACHA M2 Final Four included UMass (17-9-1-0-0-0), Saint Thomas (27-4-0-0-2-0), Indiana University (21-10) and the University of Iowa (18-3-0-0-0-1). In the semis, UMass edged Saint Thomas, 4-3, while Iowa shaded Indiana, 2-1, in double overtime.

UMass defeated Iowa, 4-0, in the national championship game.

The 2024 ACHA national championship tournament is scheduled March 7-17 in St. Louis.


— Phillip Brents

(August 17, 2023)

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