The face of collegiate club ice hockey has undergone a major facelift in California for the upcoming 2022-23 season. The San Diego State University Aztecs helped start it.
Even before the 2021-22 American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II season was officially in the record books, the SDSU program had been greenlighted for Division I status. It was a milestone for the Aztecs, who have aspirations of one day elevating the sport on campus to the NCAA Division I level.
SDSU head coach Phil Bateman is definitely excited for the move up, which has necessitated a travel budget to the East Coast and a higher-level recruiting class.
“We are very proud of our growth during our time as an ACHA D2 program in California,” Bateman said. “Now as we transition to ACHA D1, we are excited about what it could mean, and should mean to California hockey players, both now and future.
“My goal in advancing this program up to D1 was to open a door for California players playing out of state to have a high-caliber collegiate program to come home to play for during their college hockey years.”
The Aztecs will be the lone ACHA Division I men’s team in California, which should help promote in-state recruiting. With the move to the Division 1 level, there will be a new excitement within the program as every goal and every win will set records as the team embarks into new territory with a clean slate.
SDSU will play its first season at the Division 1 level as an independent. However, the Aztecs will be eligible for the ACHA Division 1 national tournament in their inaugural season.
“The only criteria provided by the ACHA is that we have a minimum of 20 ACHA D1 games on our schedule, and we have 26 scheduled,” Bateman said. “In our first season, qualifying isn’t a goal yet. It would be a wonderful outcome, but we have a realistic outlook on the transition to ACHA D1. This is a reset to our new two-to-three-year plan. Once we have a couple of recruiting classes at this level, we expect to be a very competitive program on the national stage.”
SDSU will hold player try-outs Aug. 26-28. The team will host the University of Colorado-Boulder in its inaugural home stand at the Division I level over the Sept. 23-24 weekend.
Bateman said the 2022-23 roster will include incoming player to accompany the core of last season’s roster, which was already one of the most talented in recent seasons.
“There are going to be some missing faces but some very talented new bodies,” the SDSU coach said.
Schedule highlights include a trip to Buffalo, N.Y., in late October to play three games in a tournament, with the prospect of an outdoor game.
The Aztecs will also participate in the UNLV Showcase in early December.
SDSU will play four games against the University of Utah — two home and two away – and return the favor with two games in Boulder in late January. The Aztecs will also play four games against Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University (both two home, two away).
The road schedule also includes two games at Colorado State. George Mason University (Fairfax County, Va.) comes to Southern California for two games in mid-February.
SDSU will also play some of the elite ACHA Division 2 teams such as Northern Arizona University and UCLA, both twice. UCLA advanced to the semifinals of last season’s West Regional while posting a 17-3 record. Home games are at the Kroc Center Ice Arena. The ACHA season runs through March.
“Our collective goal this year will be to continue to grow and develop as a program,” Bateman said. “Our on-ice goals have never changed. We look to focus on skill growth, systems implementation and set the standards of play for the team. In parallel, we will look to continue to increase our footprint and influence within the San Diego and California hockey landscape.
“Winning and losing are not on our radar. We will do things the right way and the results will be the results. The focus is to know what we are working towards; understanding it is a longer-term plan.”
SDSU posted a 12-5-0-0-1 record (12 wins, five losses, one tie) in their final season at the ACHA Division 2 level, their third in Pac-8 play. Scoring leaders included Derian Theberge (18 goals, 33 points), Michael Eng (15 goals, 29 points) and Cole Kosowski (nine goals, 29 points).
Besides SDSU, Oregon is also moving up to the ACHA Division I level this season as an independent.
Overall, the ACHA has grown with at least 24 new members for the 2022-23 season, including six in Men’s Division 2, nine in Men’s Division 3 and five in Women’s Division 1.
ACHA Executive Director Craig Barnett said the Men’s ACHA Division 1 level continues to build on the West Coast.