West Coast Hockey Conference continuing to trend upward
As it enters its 10th season of existence, there’s no doubt that the West Coast Hockey Conference is thriving.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of the conference’s success is that it keeps growing – the WCHC will expand to 10 teams this season when it welcomes UC Irvine and Cal State Bakersfield to the fold.
The addition of the two schools means the conference will be divided into two divisions for the 2019-20 season. Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, Loyola Marymount and UC Santa Barbara will play in one division, while the other division will be made up of Chapman, University of San Diego, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, and Cal State Bakersfield.
Having added three new schools last year, the conference has essentially doubled in size.
“We’re not only growing in terms of the number of teams we ice each season, but the quality of the teams’ play is getting so much better year after year,” said Tyler Goeckner-Zoeller, the general manager for Loyola Marymount’s team, who helped start the LMU program back in 2006. “Since we started the West Coast Hockey Conference back in 2010, our conference has had the top team from California every single year. There’s plenty of good hockey throughout the state, but for the top team to come from our conference every year really makes a strong statement.”
The 2019-20 season opened Sept. 20 with a matchup featuring Chapman taking on Cal State Bakersfield. Cal State Northridge is the conference’s three-time defending champion, and while expectations are high for the Matadors, they should see plenty of competition throughout the WCHC. Loyola Marymount and Long Beach State are both expected to be strong teams this season, as are Cal State Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara.
The regular season runs through early February and after playoffs, the champion will move on to the ACHA regionals in Boise, Idaho, at the end of the month.
The strength of the conference is clearly evident in its postseason track record. Since its founding in 2010, the WCHC has sent a team to the ACHA Division II West Regional Tournament almost every year and has sent five teams to the Division II National Tournament. With eight teams for the first time last year, the WCHC’s winner received an automatic bid to regionals, and will do so again this season.
“That’s the primary reason that we want to make sure we continue to grow the conference – to ensure that we keep getting that automatic bid to regionals,” Goeckner-Zoeller said. “We want one of our teams from Southern California, which is under-represented for the quality of hockey we have here, to make it to regionals and face off against teams from Colorado, Utah and other states and show what we can do as a conference and a state.
“It’s sort of a goal for everyone here to win this conference and knowing that you’ll get a chance to secure that coveted spot at the regional tournament makes it even bigger of a prize.”
While Cal State Northridge would appear to be the favorite as the season begins, there is also some uncertainty because the Matadors have a new coach. Long Beach State will also have a new man behind the bench, as will Loyola Marymount.
Other changes this season include some teams playing in new rinks. UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton will practice and play their games at the newly opened Great Park ICE in Irvine.
“There are a lot of new faces around the league as far as new coaches and teams, and we’re really excited as the season starts and have high expectations, just like we do every season,” Goeckner-Zoeller said.
— Greg Ball
(Oct. 16, 2019)