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Arizona collegiate inline teams face off new season with solid results

 

The Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) has started its 2021-22 season with its Arizona-based clubs leading the way.

Despite being off the floor for 18 months because of COVID-19 restrictions, teams representing the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University have risen toward the top of the standings in their respective divisions.

Arizona State University is leading Division 1 teams with a 10-0-0-1 record (10 wins, one overtime loss) while the University of Arizona is leading the Division 3 standings with an 8-3 record.

NAU (4-5) is two games back of first place Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (6-3) in the race for supremacy among Division 2 teams.

Meanwhile, a battle of Arizona is shaping up among the league’s Division IV developmental squads with the University of Arizona out to a 10-2 start ahead of Arizona State’s 8-3 mark.

Overall, 16 teams were active in the first semester.

“All went well and teams were super excited to start playing again,” WCHL director Brennan Edwards said. “It has been a long time since these teams have played collegiate roller hockey, and a lot of teams have graduated decent amounts of players, graduated leadership, and the remaining players from two years ago are trying their best to make it happen, to be organized.

“The schools have been supportive as well. Arizona State is still super strong and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Northern Arizona University look like they haven’t missed a beat. We are glad in the WCRHL to have so many teams return after all this time off. This is still a rebuilding year for the league and many clubs, so we hope to bring more teams in next season.”

Standings after the first second semester event spotlight ASU ahead CSU Fullerton (5-7-0) in Division 1; Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Northern Arizona University ahead of Chico State (0-8) in Division 2; U of- A ahead of UCLA (6-5), Cal Poly Pomona (4-4), UC Santa Barbara at (3-5) and San Jose State (0-8) in Division 3; and U of- A and ASU ahead of at Fullerton (6-6-0), Cal Poly SLO (1-10) and Cal Poly Pomona (0-3) in Division 4.

ASU’s Division 1 and Division 4 teams are three-time defending conference champions.

Roll out

The WCRHL held its regular season kickoff event Oct. 23-24 at Irvine Inline. All active teams participated. Games included both divisional and non-divisional matchups.

ASU’s Division 1 team rolled to a 4-0 start with victories over Northern Arizona University (5-3 in a non-divisional matchup), CSU Fullerton (9-0 in a divisional matchup), Cal Poly SLO (6-1 in a Division I versus Division II pairing) and West Valley (4-3 in overtime in another non-divisional matchup).

Chase Steele keyed the Sun Devils’ strong start with eight goals and 13 points in the four games while teammates Andrew Hite and Hayden Knight both logged seven points. Lane Hartwell braced ASU between the pipes with a solid 1.74 GAA, four wins and a .885 save percentage.

NAUvsASUArizona rolled past UCLA (10-2) and Pomona (13-1) in key divisional matchups to finish 3-1 at the Irvine kickoff event. Ethan Zorbas backstopped the Wildcats defensively with a 3.33 GAA and a .833 save percentage.

Among Division 4 teams, both ASU and Arizona faced off their seasons with 3-1 records. The teams met once in Irvine with ASU scoring a 4-1 win.

The Sun Devils defeated Fullerton (12-0), Cal Poly SLO (9-3) and Arizona in divisional matchups while coming up short, 6-1, against Arizona’s Division III team. The Wildcats topped Pomona, 12-0, and San Luis Obispo, 9-2, in divisional games while skating past Pomona’s Division 3 team, 10-3, to collect their three wins in California.

Skyler Sanchez led ASU with a division-best nine goals and 12 points while Arizona’s Rene LeBlanc posted a 2.33 GAA and a .788 save percentage to pace division goaltenders.

NAU recorded some eye-popping offensive numbers in its regular season debut. Max Reeves tallied 10 goals and 16 points while Jaden Guzman racked up five goals and a division-leading nine assists for 14 points in the Lumberjacks’ five trips to the floor.

The WCRHL’s second regular season event took place Nov. 6-7 at San Jose’s Silver Creek Sportsplex.

Besides a full gamut of WCHL teams, the University of Colorado ventured out to the Bay Area with good results. The Buffaloes finished 3-1 with wins over UC Santa Barbara (8-5), UCLA (7-0), San Jose State (12-1) and a 5-2 loss to the University of Arizona while outscoring their opponents 29-11.

Among top WCRHL team performances at the San Jose event, ASU’s Division 1 squad remained undefeated on the season with another 4-0 showing while the University of Arizona matched that record in Division 4. ASU’s Division 4 team finished 3-1 in its second regular season outing.

The Wildcats’ Division III team finished 2-2.

NAU only participated in the league’s first regular season event.

Griffin_Sherwood“This year we have very strong Division 3 and Division 4 teams,” said Arizona club president Griffin Sherwood, who serves as WCRHL treasurer and WCRHL active club committee lead. “Our Division 3 team had five wins, two of them were against Division 1 programs (through the opening two tournaments). That team has a few newcomers, including Jack Sapra, Dylan Smith and Hudson Fox, who are all freshmen. The rest of the team are all returning players. Saahil Ahuja has taken both a leadership and scoring role.

“Our Division 4 team has a majority of new players with a few returning players. Of the returning players, Max Chase has really stood out. We have also picked up two new goalies, Rene LeBlanc and Jake Schwartz. It has always been a challenge to find goalies, so it is exciting to have four goalies in the program right now.

“Both teams are at the top of their divisions, and we expect to make a good run at nationals in the spring.”

Sherwood credits the team’s coaching staff – Nick Bazan, Josh Smith, Kevin Smith, Jack Allen and Ryan Miller – as being influential in bringing the Wildcats to their current level.

Sherwood said though the past year was difficult because of the pandemic, the team never lost hope that it could succeed.

“We were very disappointed to not be able to play games, but luckily the Tucson Indoor Sports Center was open all year, so we were able to practice, play in the adult league and scrimmage,” he said.

Arizona rising

The WCRHL’s third regular season event took place Jan. 22-23 at the Barney Family Sports Complex in Queen Creek. Eleven teams spread across four divisions participated. Colorado State and Florida Gulf Coast also attended the Arizona event.

Florida Gulf Coast finished 3-1 at the Queen Creek gathering while Colorado State finished 0-4. FGC and CSU both compete at the Division 3 level.

NAU bombarded the Florida visitors, 15-5, in their match-up while Gulf Coast topped ASU’s Division 4 team 7-4.

Colorado State lost an 8-3 matchup against Arizona’s Division 4 team.

Of note, ASU and Fullerton traded wins in Division 1. The Titans shaded the Sun Devils, 5-4, in an overtime shootout on Jan. 22 to pick up their first win over ASU this season. The teams had met twice before with the Sun Devils prevailing by scores of 9-0 and 4-1.

ASU forced overtime on the strength of third period goals by Mason Parker and Dominic Garcia (his second of the game. The overtime was scoreless with just one shot by each time to necessitate the shootout tiebreaker.

Steele scored for the Sun Devils in the opening round of the shootout, as did Fullerton’s Ryan Tuckwood. However, newly added goaltender Kurt Yano stopped the final two ASU shooters while the Titans’ capitalized on Ruslan Patterson‘s timely goal to capture the tiebreaker 2-1. Troy Yano led Fullerton with a hat trick in regulation.

The teams rematched the next day with the Sun Devils winning by a score of 5-2. Steele scored two first period goals while Knight added a second period goal for a 3-1 lead. Demitri Vavaroutsos and Parker notched third period goals for the final three-goal victory.

The Wildcats’ Division 3 team finished 3-0 and their Division 4 team finished 3-1. Arizona blasted UCLA, 13-1, and Pomona, 11-0, in a pair of Division 3 matchups and recorded a 3-1 win over NAU’s Division 2 team for its perfect weekend. The Wildcats’ development team topped Colorado State, 8-3, and defeated Fullerton, 6-1, in a Division 4 encounter while picking up a forfeit win against Cal Poly SLO.

ASU’s Division 4 team finished 2-1, compiling a key 3-2 victory against intra-state rival U-of-A.

The Sun Devils also shut out Fullerton, 4-0, while absorbing a 7-4 setback to Florida Gulf Coast.

Fox led the Wildcats past UCLA with four goals and rolled across another four point-performance (three goals, one assist) in the win over Pomona.

Guzman keyed NAU over Florida Gulf Coast with a whopping 10 points (one goal, nine assists) to earn first star of the game honors while Reeves chalked up seven points (five goals, two assists).

Sanchez had two goals while Weston Walker stopped 25 of 27 shots (0.925 save percentage) to key ASU’s one-goal victory over Arizona in the team’s key Division 4 matchup.

Top shelf

Division 1 scoring leaders through three regular season events included ASU’s Steele and Hite with 27 and 20 points, respectively, while ASU’s Parker ranked third with 15 points.

Steele (13) led the division in goals (13) and assists (14) while Hite ranked second in assists (13).

Hartwell led Division I goaltenders with a 1.87 GAA, nine wins and a .893 save percentage.

Division 2 scoring leaders included NAU’s Guzman and Reeves with 27 and 24 points, respectively. Reeves topped the division with 16 goals while Guzman topped the division with 20 assists.

NAU’s Jakob Ogan ranked first among division goaltenders with an .808 save percentage and second with a 4.56 GAA and four wins.

The Wildcats claimed several players among the Division 3 scoring leaders. Ahuja ranked third in both points (23) and assists (13) while Fox ranked fifth in goals (14) and Sapra ranked fifth in assists (nine).

NAUvsChicoArizona’s Zorbas paced division goaltenders with a 2.22 GAA, seven wins and 0.891 save percentage.

Division 4 scoring leaders included Arizona’s Chase and Zachary Kavanagh with 37 and 29 points, respectively, ASU’s Sanchez with 26 points and the Wildcat tandem of Theo Hannah and Colton Herr each with 23 points.

Chase paced the division with 22 goals while ranking runner-up with 15 assists. Kavanagh ranked first with 16 assists while Sanchez ranked second with 17 goals. Hannah ranked third with 14 goals while Herr and Kavanagh were tied for fourth with 13 goals.

U of A’s Grady Sherwood ranked fourth with 13 assists while ASU’s Ethan Briggs ranked fifth with 10 assists.

Arizona’s goaltending duo of Schwartz (1.33 GAA) and LeBlanc (2.13 GAA) ranked first and second, respectively, in goals-against average. Schwartz topped division netminders with a .918 save percentage while LeBlanc led with six wins and ranked second with an .882 save percentage. ASU’s Tyler Briles ranked third with a 2.25 GAA and a .880 save percentage to push for top goaltending honors.

ASU’s Walker ranked fourth deep among division goaltenders with a 3.50 GAA and a .794 save percentage but was second with four wins under his skates.

The Rinks-Corona Inline will host the WCRHL’s final regular season event Feb. 19-20. The conference championship tournament is slated March 5-6 at Corona Inline.

Prior to that, ASU made a trip to Palatine, Ill., near Chicago, Feb. 5-6, to meet Lindenwood (Division 1), Michigan State (Division 1) and Bethel University (Division 2) in inter-regional competition. The Sun Devils split their four games, going 2-2, in a preview of competition at the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) national championship tournament.

Arizona State defeated Bethel, 5-2, and Michigan State, 4-3, while dropping a pair of matchups against Lindenwood by scores of 5-1 and 6-0.

ASU swept the three stars of the game awards in the win over Bethel with Steele earning first star with a hat trick, Vavasroutsos the second star award with one goal and one assist and Michael Bloom with two assists.

Steele (one goal, three assists) was named the first star in the win over Michigan State while Bloom (one goal, two assists) was the second star and Hite (two goals) was the third star).

Anthony Paquet scored the lone goal for the Sun Devils in the two games against national power Lindenwood.

ASU is slated to play Cal Poly SLO (Division 2), West Valley (Junior College Division), NAU (Division 2) and Fullerton (Division 1) at the upcoming regular season event in Corona while the Wildcats are scheduled to meet UC Santa Barbara (Division 3), San Jose State (Division 3) and West Valley (JC Division).

Northern Arizona will have a busy time on the playing court with five games – one each against Colorado (Division 3), Fullerton (Division 1), ASU (Division 1), Cal Poly (Division 2) and West Valley (JC Division).

Ogan and his NAU teammates have an eye on a strong finish to the season that could reap rewards.

U-of-A Wildcats32_0084“Our season so far has been an interesting one,” Ogan said. “Since there is only one other Division 2 team on the West Coast, we play a lot of our games against the Division 1 teams. We have played ASU twice and Fullerton twice with a third time against them in the preseason. They have all been close games, but we haven’t been able to beat ASU yet. We do get one more shot at beating them at the WCRHL weekend in Corona in February, so hopefully we can pull out a win.

“Against Fullerton we have not lost against them yet, playing three very close games. It is always fun to play the Division 1 teams because it makes us better as a team. We get to play the other Division 2 team, Cal Poly SLO, at the next weekend, too. We have not played them since the first weekend when they defeated us 6-3. They are a very skilled and fast-paced team, and I am looking forward to playing them again. We always play very scrappy games against them that are a lot of fun to play in.

“In Queen Creek, we did lose to the University of Arizona Division 3 team. It was a close game, but they just wanted it more. I think we also overlooked them a little bit going into the game, so that taught us to go into every game with the same mindset as we have when we play ASU.

“Throughout the season, we have had trouble getting our entire team to play at the same time. We have three players who play on the ice hockey teams and there have been a lot of scheduling conflicts, so we were not able to get everybody together to play. Since the ice season is winding down, we should have everybody playing for the rest of the season. We are at a bit of a disadvantage since we do not have a place to practice up in Flagstaff, so we try to schedule rink time the day before weekends and head down early to get some skating in as a team.

“As a team, we are looking forward to our upcoming games in Corona and then regionals. Individually, all the skaters we have are very skilled, and once we mesh fully, I think we have a solid shot at the WCRHL title, and possibly the NCRHA national title (National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association).”

Photos/WCRHL

– Phillip Brents

(February 8, 2022)

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