Aztecs to face off college ice hockey season with East County players in tow

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If you have felt a slight chill in the night air lately, that can only mean one thing: it is time for the ice hockey season to face off.

The San Diego State University ice hockey team, braced by three East County players in the lineup, will host the University of San Diego Toreros on Friday, Oct. 12, at the Joan Kroc Salvation Army Center in the team’s home opener. Face off is 8 p.m.

It is an intriguing matchup between local college programs that are both competing this season at the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II level.

If you have felt a slight chill in the night air lately, that can only mean one thing: it is time for the ice hockey season to face off.

The San Diego State University ice hockey team, braced by three East County players in the lineup, will host the University of San Diego Toreros on Friday, Oct. 12, at the Joan Kroc Salvation Army Center in the team’s home opener. Face off is 8 p.m.

It is an intriguing matchup between local college programs that are both competing this season at the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II level.

The Aztecs finished last season 17-7-2 after posting a 16-7-2 record in 2016-17. Overall, SDSU has posted four consecutive winning seasons.

This season, however, the Aztecs are making a bold shift to compete in the PAC 8 Hockey Conference after posting three successful seasons in the West Coast Hockey Conference. It should be an upgrade in brand recognition for the SDSU program.

The Toreros, a first-year entry at the Division II ACHA level, enter Friday’s game at the Kroc Center with a 0-3 record following losses to CSU Fullerton (9-3 on Sept. 28), Loyola Marymount University (4-1 on Sept. 29) and CSU Long Beach (22-1 on Oct. 6).

SDSU’s 2018-19 roster includes 25 players. The Aztecs’ allotment of East County players includes junior forward Isaac Miller and freshman forward Elisha Reece, both from La Mesa, and freshman forward Mason Cook from Lakeside.

Miller (Helix High School) recorded nine goals (including three game-winners) and 11 assists for 20 points in 26 games last season with the Aztecs while compiling 38 penalty minutes.

Reece played in 51 games last season for the San Diego Sabers of the Western States Hockey League while compiling six goals and eight assists for 14 points.

Cook suited up in 14 games for the Poway Unified Hawks in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League in 2016-17, notching four goals and three assists with one game-winning goal.

SDSU has three players from Chula Vista: junior forward Devyn Taras, senior forward Aaron Mayer and freshman goaltender Matthew Burbage.

Mayer is among the team’s veteran players, finishing second in regular season scoring last season with 24 goals and 38 points in 25 games after leading the team in scoring with 19 goals and 41 points in 25 games in 2016-17.

Both Mayer (Eastlake High School) and Taras (Otay Ranch High School) are accomplished and highly decorated roller hockey players. Mayer holds the San Diego Section record for most points scored in one season.

The speedy Taras piled up points for the Mustangs as well during his playing time in the CIF-Metro Conference.

By the numbers

Overall, the Aztecs’ 2018-19 roster lists 10 players from San Diego County.

Other county locals include freshman forwards Andrew Hoy (La Jolla), Jake Goldberg (Del Mar), Callum McRae (San Diego) and senior forward Patrick Miller (San Diego).

Junior defenseman Dustin Ward is from Temecula.

Other Californians on the SDSU roster include junior defenseman Adrien Wisch (Pleasanton), sophomore defenseman Tristan Macalolooy (San Jose), freshman forward Mickey Sullivan (South Lake Tahoe), senior goaltender Austin Hathcoat (Fresno), freshman goaltender Nick Ilvento (South Lake Tahoe), senior defenseman Josh Nobida (Dublin), freshman forward Derian Theberg (Valencia), junior forward Troy Smith (Oxnard), sophomore forward Steven Plante (Santa Clarita), freshman forward Jake Rochford (Saugus) and sophomore defenseman Reece Breuckman (San Jose).

Freshman defenseman Curtis Maltby (Nantucket) and graduate Tyler Smith (Boston) are both from Massachusetts while sophomore forward Zac Mencimer is from Gleenwood Springs (Colorado).

Plante (14 goals, 36 points), Patrick Miller (13 goals, 29 points) and Nobida (four goals, 22 points) are the team’s top returning scorers following Mayer.

SDSU head coach Phil Bateman said the program has taken on a new group of freshmen to compliment the high skill level already on the team from last season’s roster.

“This season the ice hockey program will welcome back 11 of its players from last season, including captains Tyler Smith and Josh Nobida,” Bateman said. “The influx of talent has come in from all parts of the country, including Colorado and Massachusetts, as well as a bumper crop of California-born players.

“A proud San Diego component is the addition of six San Diego-based high school players, products of the Poway and La Jolla Country Day programs (in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League).”

New horizons

SDSU joins Boise State University, Eastern Washington University, San Jose State University and Western Washington University as new members of the PAC 8 during a wave of major expansion. Because the conference now spans the entire West Coast, a north and south division format has been adopted.

SDSU is a member of the PAC 8 South Division alongside Arizona State University, Cal- Berkley, UCLA, San Jose State and USC.

The PAC 8 North Division includes Boise State, Eastern Washington, University of Oregon, University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington.

Each team must play 10 conference games. At the end of regular season play the top four teams from the north and south divisions qualify for the playoffs.

Arizona State is the defending PAC-8 champion. UCLA won the championship tournament in 2017.

The Aztecs will host UCLA, USC, Oregon and ASU while meeting San Jose State, Boise State, Cal-Berkeley and Washington in road games

SDSU will play non-conference games against Loyola Marymount University, Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, USD, Weber State University, Texas A&M and St. Mary’s.

A highlight on the 2018-19 SDSU schedule is a Jan. 19 date at the Valley View Casino Center against the University of Oregon. The game will be part of a doubleheader with the American Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls.

“This game will be a celebration of college hockey in San Diego and will give fans the opportunity to watch a college game prior to the San Diego Gulls game at the Valley View Casino Center,” Bateman said.

The Gulls will host the Tucson Roadrunners in their 2018-19 AHL home opener on Friday, Oct. 12, after facing off the season with a 6-4 loss Oct. 6 in Tucson.

SDSU faced off the 2018-19 season with a pair of road contests against San Jose State Sept. 21-22 at Sharks Ice in San Jose. The Spartans won both games, defeating the Aztecs, 3-2, in the first game, and wrapped up the two-game set with a 3-0 shutout victory.

Sullivan scored SDSU’s first goal of the season to give the Aztecs a 1-0 lead in the opener of the two-game series. However, San Jose State rallied with the game’s next three goals to take a 3-1 lead.

Taras scored the only goal of the third period to bring the Aztecs to within a goal on the scoreboard at 3-2. But the visitors could not complete their comeback despite piling up a 50-38 advantage in shots.

Burbage made 35 saves in the loss for SDSU. Sullivan paced the Aztecs with a goal and assist in the game while Tyler Smith and Reece each were credited with assists.

SDSU grabbed a 49-36 edge in shots in the second game despite being shut out. Burbage made 33 saves on 36 shots to see his record drip to 0-2.

The Spartans relied on the standout goaltending of Edward Berlin to nudge past the Aztecs in the weekend set.

Berlin, who made 48 saves in the opener, stopped all 49 shots he faced in the rematch to finish the weekend set with 97 saves on 99 shots (.980 save percentage).

Brent Roenick leads USD in scoring with two goals and two assists in three games.

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