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With nationals in rearview mirror, WCRHL set to start 2023-24 season


The Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) continues to represent scholastic inline hockey at a high level of competition throughout its California and Arizona membership.

The WCRHL faced off its newest season with an Oct. 14 preseason event at Irvine Inline in Southern California. Seven teams participated, including Grand Canyon University in Division 1, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and University of Arizona in Division 2, Cal Poly Pomona in Division 3 and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly Pomona and University of Arizona in the development AA Division.

Grand Canyon University finished 3-0-1 in its four games against Division 2 and Division 3 competition while Arizona’s Division 2 team finished 2-1-1 in games against WCRHL inter-divisional teams. Pomona’s Division 3 team finished 2-2. Arizona’s AA Division team finished 3-0 against intra-divisional foes and 3-1 overall.

The alignment for the 2023-24 season includes Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University in Division 1, Cal Poly SLO, CSU Fullerton and Arizona in Division 2 and UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly Pomona, San Jose State and Northern Arizona University in Division 3. The AA Division is the largest, consisting of ASU, GCU, U-of-A, Cal Poly SLO and Pomona.

Plans are to field a Junior College Division following recruiting interest from Saddleback College and Orange Coast College.

“The upcoming season will be very similar to the last, except we are changing a couple of our event locations,” WCRHL director Brennan Edwards said. “Fall semester we will be doing the preseason event at Irvine, with regular season events in Corona, Tucson and San Jose. The Barney Family Sports Complex in Queen Creek, Ariz. is closing, so we are moving our spring semester Phoenix area event over to Peoria Sportsplex.

“Also in the spring we will have a Corona event, and we will be doing one more spring event at the Central Coast Sports Arena in Santa Maria. The Peoria event will be billed as an inter-conference event with the hopes to host three to four teams from outside of the WCRHL.

“Grand Canyon is adding a second team this season, which will compete against Arizona State, Arizona, CSU Fullerton and Cal Poly Pomona in the AA division. All other teams/divisions remain the same.”

The upcoming puck drop on the 2023-24 season follows a very successful national championship tournament held April 19-24 in Irvine. California and Arizona collegiate inline teams seem to have impressed the rankings makers.

Arizona State tied Bethel University for second place among the nation’s Division 1 teams in the NCRHA preseason coaches poll while Arizona was ranked fifth, Fullerton seventh and Cal Poly SLO 13th among Division 2 teams. Santa Barbara was ranked 10th in Division 3 while Arizona was tied with Lindenwood Black for third place among AA Division teams while ASU was fifth.

The WCRHL’s annual kick-off event is slated Nov. 4-5 at Corona Inline. Two regular season events are scheduled Nov. 18 – one each at the Silver Creek Sportsplex in San Jose and the Tucson Indoor Sports Center in Arizona.

Corona Inline will host an additional regular season event Jan. 20-21 while the Central Coast Sports Arena in Santa Maria will host a regular season event on Feb. 10. Arizona’s Peoria Sportsplex will host a WCRHL inter-conference event on Feb. 17.

The WCRHL conference championships are scheduled March 2-3 in Corona. The 2024 National Collegiate Roller Hockey Championships are scheduled April 17-21 at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn, Maine.

The National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) was extended the unique invitation to enter a NCRHA All-American team of current collegiate roller hockey players to compete in South American Inline Hockey Invitational Nov. 15-19 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Besides the NCRHA All-American team, national and national-caliber teams from Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and Argentina will be participating in the event, which is being hosted by the Confederacao Brasileira de Hoquei e Patinacao (Brazilian Hockey and Skating Confederation).

The event will be held at the Centro Esportivo do Trabalhador (CET) in Amparo, Sao Paulo and features a 152-foot by 79-foot rink with a new Stilmat floor.

Team selection was handled through an application process. The lineup is peppered with six WCRHL players – or half the team. Forwards include GCU junior Dylan Guy, GCU senior Aydin Schwetz, Santa Barbara graduate student Brad Price and Cal Poly SLO’s Ethan Vernik. Defensemen include GCU sophomore McKenna Cooper and ASU senior Jacob Crayne.

NCRHA Finals

Th 2023 National Collegiate Roller Hockey Championships, the 23rd overall, featured 46 teams in five divisions – Division 1, Division 2, Division 3, AA Division and Junior College. Eleven WCRHL teams participated.

WCRHL teams scored their share of respect – and success.

Arizona State University (semifinals) and Grand Canyon University (quarterfinals) competed in the powerhouse Division 1 field while CSU Fullerton (Round of 16 playoffs), University of Arizona (quarterfinals) and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (Round of 16) participated in the highly competitive Division 2 field.

Cal Poly Pomona (Round of 16), San Jose State (Round of 16) and UC Santa Barbara (quarterfinals) took part in the Division 3 field, the largest in the tournament, while Arizona finished as the runner-up in the AA Division championship game while ASU and Fullerton both advanced to the quarterfinals in the division.

A special alumni tournament also took place. Santa Barbara won the upper division championship, while the Cal Poly Pomona team – comprised primarily of its 2020 championship team – went 5-0-0 to win the lower division. Pomona, CSU Fullerton, and UC Santa Barbara each entered two alumni teams.

The home cooking at the 2023 National Collegiate Roller Hockey Championships was especially welcomed by teams from California and Arizona that have had to journey to Michigan, Pittsburgh, Florida, New York and North Dakota in recent years (and next year to Maine) to test themselves against the best the NCRHA has to offer.

“It was great to have Nationals back in California for the first time in 12 years,” Cal Poly Pomona coach John Paerels said. “Convincing players to miss a week of school can be a challenge when they haven’t experienced the event before, so it worked out well for us having it local, and now that our players have had a taste of what it takes, we’re already planning for next year in Auburn (Maine).”

Arizona rising

The Division 1 field included two pools of four teams each. Arizona State won its opening two games (4-3 over Henry Ford College and 7-1 over Farmingdale State) before coming up short in its pool finale (3-1 to Bethel University). GCU finished 1-2 in pool play with losses to Lindenwood University and Slippery Rock University, 9-2 and 5-3, respectively, and a 4-3 win over Rowan University.

All eight teams advanced to the quarterfinal playoffs. ASU, the division champion at the conference finals, defeated Grand Canyon, 3-2, to secure a berth in the semifinals alongside Lindenwood, Slippery Rock and Bethel.

The Sun Devils ended their playoff run with a 4-1 loss to eventual division champion Lindenwood, which went on to defeat Slippery Rock, 13-0, in the championship game.

Skyler Sanchez recorded the game-winning goal against Henry Ford College, assisted by Grant Ziegler. Mason Parker (three goals) and Logan Corrigan (two goals, one assist) both picked up three points in the win over Farmingdale while Hartwell stopped six of seven shots the stingy ASU defense let through.

Ruben Gonzalez paced GCU, the division runner-up at the conference finals, with three goals and one assist in its pool-round win over Rowan.

Matt Cornish earned first star with two goals and one assist in the playoff win over the Antelopes while Lane Hartwell stopped 25 of 27 shots (0.926 save percentage) to earn second star honors.  Corrigan (two assists) was the game’s third star. Cornish tallied the game-winning goal in the third period to snap a 2-2 deadlock.

Gonzalez had both GCU goals while Guido Pacheco stopped 26 of 29 shots in the loss (0.897 save percentage).

Corrigan had the lone ASU goal in the semifinal loss as Lindenwood skated to a 4-0 lead early in the third period.

ASU finished 3-2 in its five games while GCU finished 1-3.

“In Division 1, Arizona State was very competitive, going 3-1-0 before only losing by three to powerhouse and eventual Division 1 champion Lindenwood,” said Edwards, who also serves as NCRHA executive director. “Grand Canyon was also competitive, going 1-3-0 with two close losses to go along with a seven-goal loss to Lindenwood.”

Gonzalez tied for fifth in pool scoring with seven points (three goals, four assists). ASU’s Cornish picked up five points (one goal, four assists) in pool play while Corrigan tallied four points (three goals, one assist). Hartwell posted a 2.27 goals-against average and 0.842save percentage in three games (2-1 record).

Gonzalez earned first team selection to the all-tournament team while Hartwell made the second team and was further named the division’s Most Valuable Goaltender.

Cornish and Corrigan both earned honorable mention on the all-tournament team.

San Jose’s Christian Acosta, now a graduate student at Lindenwood, collected four goals and one assist for the Lions in the championship game en route to earning the division MVP award. Other Californians on the Lindenwood roster during the 2022-23 season included senior Nathan Durrans (Belmont) and freshman Jack Wedoski (Brentwood).

The Division 2 bracket included 11 teams split into three pools (two three-team pools and one five-team pool). Cal Poly finished 3-2 while Arizona finished 2-2. Fullerton finished 1-3.

“In Division 2, the three WCRHL squads were a combined 6-2-0 in the round robin,” Edwards said. “In the playoffs, CSU Fullerton and Arizona each suffered a tough one-goal loss to a Final Four team.”

Arizona, the division runner-up at the conference finals, opened pool play with a 6-5 overtime win over Northeastern, then upended UMass by a score of 5-3 to win its pool.

The Wildcats promptly made it three-for-three with a 10-7 win over Cortland in the opening round of the playoffs before being derailed, 3-2, by the Endicott Gulls in the quarterfinals.

Jack Sapra earned No. 1 star in the OT win over Northeastern with three goals and one assist, including the overtime winner, while Dylan Smith earned honors as the No. 1 star with two goals and two assists in the win over UMass (which would go on to place runner-up in the division). Sapra notched two assists in the win over UMass.

Smith collected five points (one goal, four assists) in the playoff win over Cortland while Sapra notched a hat trick and Hudson Fox contributed three points on two goals and one assist.

The playoff game against Endicott was evenly played. Following a scoreless first period, Theo Hannah put the Wildcats up 1-0 with the only goal in the second period. Arizona moved in front, 2-1, on a power play goal by Smith in the third period but the Wildcats couldn’t hold onto the lead as Justin Stergos scored the game’s final two goals for the Gulls to push them ahead for good.

Cal Poly finished 3-1 in pool play (wins over Tampa, Temple and Endicott in overtime and a loss to Robert Morris University). However, the Mustangs could not carry the momentum of their 8-7 OT win over Endicott to end pool play in a 10-4 setback to the same Gulls team in the opening round of the single-elimination playoffs.

Derek Le tallied nine points (five goals, four assists) in the 14-8 win over Tampa while Vernik racked up six points (five goals, one assist). E.J. Gabriel had four points (two goals, two assists).

Gabriel led the way with two goals in the win over Temple while Le had two assists.

Gabriel (four goals) scored the OT winner over Endicott, assisted by Le (three goals, two assists). Nick Blakewell dished out five assists in the highlight reel game.

In the rematch, Endicott raced out to a 3-0 first period lead but Cal Poly rallied to close the gap to one goal at 5-4 through two periods. However, the Gulls scored the final five goals, all in the third period, to soar to the playoff win.

Endicott’s playoff run would last two more games – a 3-2 win over Arizona in the quarterfinals and a 5-3 loss to Ohio State in the semifinals.

Fullerton’s lone win came ironically, 3-2, against Ohio State, the eventual national champions, in pool play. Ezra Gale led the Titans with two goals while Ethan Flores scored once in support of winning goaltender Kurt Yano’s 21 saves.

Fullerton, the division champion at the conference finals, finished 1-1 in pool play with a 10-5 loss to Cortland together with the win over the Buckeyes. The Titans suffered a 2-1 setback to UMass, the eventual division runner-up, in a cross-bracket game before Titans played it close to the vest in their exiting 4-1 loss to Ohio State in a playoff rematch.

Le topped the Division II leader board in pool play with 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in four games to earn first team all-tournament honors.

Cal Poly’s Gabriel (eight goals, two assists) and Vernik (seven goals, three assists) tied for fourth with 10 points. Also for the Mustangs, Blakewell tallied nine points (two goals, seven assists).

Arizona’s Hudson Fox was a high achiever with six points (two goals, four assists) in just two pool games.

On the goaltending side, Fullerton’s Yano finished 1-1 with a 3.75 GAA (second in the division) and 0.889 save percentage (tops in the division) while Arizona’s Ethan Zorbas finished 2-0 in pool play with a 3.79 GAA and 0.805 save percentage. Cal Poly’s Jack Conlon finished 2-0 with a 5.50 GAA and 0.756 save percentage.

Ten WCRHL’ers earned honorable mention all-tournament recognition in the division: Fox, Sapra, Smith and Zorbas from Arizona; Blakewell, Gabriel, Nicholas Norcia and Vernik from Cal Poly; and Ryan Tuckwood and Yano from Fullerton.

Ohio State slipped past UMass, 5-4, in the championship game.

Division III

This was the largest division at nationals with 19 teams – four pools of four teams each and one pool of three teams. Cal Poly Pomona finished with a 3-2 mark, including 2-1 in pool play with an ensuing play-in win to advance to the Round of 16 playoff bracket. UC Santa Barbara finished 1-3-1 with a playoff win to advance to the division quarterfinals. San Jose State finished 0-4 but earned a berth in the Round of 16 bracket.

“Nationals were a huge success this year in my opinion — our team really enjoyed the chance to go and battle against the other top D3 teams in the country,” said Price, who serves as Santa Barbara Gauchos club president. “While we didn’t quite get the result we wanted, losing by a two goals in the quarterfinals was a marked improvement over last year. The competition this year was really evenly matched; there were tons of tight games in D3. The other divisions were similarly competitive and were great to watch. Major props to the schedule makers for setting up evenly balanced pools and a fair knockout round bracket. Time to start focusing on next year.”

Pomona, the division runner-up at the conference finals, finished 2-1 in pool play with a runner-up nod to Group D winner Maryville, beating Yeshiva University (11-10 in overtime) and Vermont (11-8) while dropping a 13-8 contest to Colorado State.

The Broncos captured a very tight 11-10 overtime decision over Rhode Island in one of three out-bracket match-ups to advance to the Round of 16 eliminations. Pomona put up a fight against eventual division champion Neumann University in a 12-6 loss that was closer than final score would indicate.

“The last three games we played were the first time all year that we’ve had every player available, and it definitely made a difference, as we were 4-4 early against eventual D3 national champion Neumann,”
 Paerels said.

Pomona’s Matthew Augustine finished as the pool round scoring leader with 24 points (16 goals, eight assists) in three games. He had a truly prolific tournament.  Augustine logged four goals and three assists in the win over Yeshiva and collected five goals and five assists in the win over Vermont, scoring or assists on 10 of his team’s 11 goals. He racked up seven of his team’s eight goals in the loss to Colorado State.

Brayden Fleming (six goals, three assists) and Augustine (three goals, six assists) exploded for nine points each in the playoff win over Rhode Island. Augustine netted the OT game-winner while Fleming had the game-winning assist.

Augustine had four points (two goals, two assists) in the high profile loss to Neumann while Justin Salamat scored twice.

Santa Barbara, the division champion at the conference finals, may have turned in the most intrepid showing among the three WCRHL entrants with three consecutive one-goal losses in pool play (7-6 to Boston, 2-1 to Oswego and 4-3 to Missouri S&T), a one-goal play-in win (7-6 over Hofstra) and a two-goal loss, 4-2 to Oswego in the quarterfinals.

Price had three goals and two assists in the one-goal setback to Boston, the team’s lone goal in the pool match-up against Oswego and one goal and two assists against Missouri S&T. He notched first star of the game honors with three goals and three assists in the playoff win over Hofstra while teammate Reyes LeGrande received second star recognition with two goals and two assists.

Oswego limited Price to two assists in the quarterfinal game with goals coming from LeGrande and Karsten Lansing as the Gauchos finally exited the tournament.

San Jose State dropped pool games to Neumann (19-3), Florida (8-2) and Hofstra (14-8). The Spartans saw their season end with an 8-4 playoff loss to Boston.

San Jose State received one goal and two assists from Patrick Mahoney, a goal and assist each from Justin Norcia and Seth Howe and one goal from Titus Wilkinson in the playoff loss to Boston.

Augustine earned second team all-tournament honors while Fleming and Santa Barbara’s Andrew Martins Rodriguez and Price all received honorable mention recognition.

Mahoney led San Jose State in pool-round scoring with eight goals and one assist while Price finished with five goals and four assists, also with nine points.

Martins Rodriguez posted a 0-3 mark in pool play between the pipes with a 3.93 GAA and 0.790 save percentage.

AA Division

The development division consisted of eight teams divided into two pools of four teams each. Arizona State finished 2-1 behind Group A winner Lindenwood University while the University of Arizona (1-2) and CSU Fullerton finished behind Farmingdale State (3-0) and Slippery Rock University (2-1) in Group B.

Arizona faced off the tournament with an 8-4 loss to Slippery Rock. Notable in the setback was the 63-save performance by U-of-A goaltender Ethan Valentine as the Wildcats were out-shot 71-31.

Arizona followed up with a 5-3 loss to Farmingdale State, but topped fellow WCRHL rival CSU Fullerton, 8-2, to close out pool play. Tyler Pear netted two goals and three assists for the Wildcats, Christian Michalowski contributed two goals and two assists and Patrick Moore dished out two assists to go with one goal. Ethan Kreller scored both goals for the Titans (0-3 in pool play).

Despite a 1-2 pool record, the Wildcats, the division runner-up at the conference finals, weren’t finished.

Arizona doubled up intrastate rival (and conference division champion) Arizona State, 6-3, in the quarterfinal playoffs as Moore collected three goals and one assist and Michalowski and Grant Marcy each had a goal and assist. Zack Dartez scored twice for ASU.

The Wildcats drew Group B winner Farmingdale State in the semifinal playoffs, winning 3-2 in overtime in an upset. Valentine earned first star honors with 31 saves while Marcy was voted the second star with a goal and assist. Michalowski picked up one goal while Moore notched the OT game-winner, unassisted.

The revenge win advanced Arizona to meet Lindenwood, the monster of collegiate roller hockey, in the final. The Lions swept all three stars of the game while piling up a 42-8 edge in shots against the Wildcats in a 10-0 finals romp. Valentine finished with 32 saves.

Lindenwood defeated Slippery Rock, 16-2, in the semifinals en route to an undefeated 6-0 run to the division championship.

ASU defeated UMass, 5-2, and Michigan State, 8-7, in pool play. Fullerton finished the tournament 0-4 with a 26-1 loss to Lindenwood in the opening quarterfinals. s

Moore earned recognition on the division’s all-tournament first team while Michalowski and Valentine were second team selections. Honorable mentions included Marcy and Pear from U-of-A, Ethan Briggs, Crayne, Dartez and Miles Gurrola from ASU and Kreller and Samantha Kat Reyes from Fullerton.

Moore finished as Arizona’s scoring leader in pool play with five goals and three assists, followed by Pear with three goals and four assists, Michalowski with two goals and five assists. Valentine finished 1-2 with a 4.33 GAA and 0.887 save percentage while facing 115 shots and making a division-high 102 saves.

Arizona State’s round-robin leaders included Crayne with three goals and three assists and Briggs with three goals and two assists. Gurrola finished 1-0 with a 2.57 GAA and 0.912 save percentage.

ASU lost, 11-1, to national champion Lindenwood in pool play.

“In AA, Arizona made it to the final but had to play Lindenwood, while CSU Fullerton had a tough go,” Edwards summed up.


– Phillip Brents

(October 30, 2023)

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