From The Daily Aztec
By Joshua Frojelin
The San Diego State University men’s ice hockey program was in the midst of a final yet pivotal Division II season. With permission to jump to Division I next year, the Aztecs wanted to make noise in the Pac-8 and American College Hockey Association West Division ahead of their promotion in the 2022-2023 season.
Unfortunately, the pandemic eliminated part of that. The Pac-8 Championship — scheduled for early February — was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. The club then directed its attention toward the ACHA West tournament.
The Aztecs returned from their winter break to take on the University of California and Los Angeles. However, COVID and injury concerns would soon impact their season greatly.
Their back-to-back games against the UCSD Tritons were postponed and ended up being just one game. With one actual win toward the standings and a forfeited victory that would not, the Aztecs were able to easily find their legs against a Division III foe.
The Aztecs then started to run into trouble, however. Freshman Jerrett Overland — one of SDSU’s top pairing defenseman and a leading scorer — left for the Eastern Hockey League — a junior league on the East Coast.
More impactful senior and starting goaltender Nick Ilvento would miss the remainder of the season with an injury. The team turned to backup freshman Charlee Lerow, who had just one game of experience, to take on the most pivotal part of the season.
This injury also sealed a major fear head coach Phillip Bateman noted throughout the entire season.
“We never got to play our best lineup due to COVID, and the injury with Nick… it sucks only being able to tell people how good you can be,” Bateman said.
The Aztecs had to use their partly injured lineup against the Bruins.
With two games against UCLA — who finished sixth in the ACHA West final rankings — and a last-minute added matchup against a ranked Loyola Marymount, the Aztecs would lack their best goaltender and blueliner.
The UCLA matchup was tough. At home, the Aztecs fanned on numerous chances to win the game in overtime after a sensational third-period comeback to tie the game with minutes remaining and settled for a draw. At UCLA, the team was unable to provide the needed support to the inexperienced netminder and fell.
SDSU then traveled to Loyola Marymount University for a final game to the regular season. The team struggled and eventually lost the game in regulation. The Scarlet and Black finished the key conclusion to their season 0-2-1.
The Aztecs ended the season 15th in the ACHA West rankings. When the cutoff for the ACHA West tournament was… the top 14.
Bateman said he felt the news was somewhat expected. He noted their “weak strength of schedule” and just hitting the “minimum 16-games played mark” as a reason for his glum outlook. The LMU loss dropped the club down four spots.
In their final season before jumping to DI, SDSU could not conclude their season well enough to make noise in the DII circuit. For reference, the University of Oregon — a rival and now future DI school — finished eighth. The Aztecs lost back-to-back games against Oregon to kick off the 2021-2022 campaign.
The Aztecs struggled to make a mark against the upper echelon of their opponents. In seven games against top 20 ranked opponents, SDSU finished 1-5-1 with the sole victory coming against Arizona State University in a home game.
The local and lesser foes were easily dispelled by the club. In seven games against Southern California and unranked clubs, the Aztecs were 7-0 and outscored their opposition 82-15.
The coach characterized this year as “fragmented”. The team got out of their normal “three practices and a game Friday (and) Saturday” routine. “We’d practice six times and hopefully play that weekend,” according to the coach.
Now all focus is toward next season. Needing at least 20 games played against other DI schools to qualify for that distinction, the Aztecs must hope that their next recruiting class can build them into a stronger team.
With as many as twenty new faces joining the program next season, the team could see a significant amount of turnover despite five seniors graduating this season. Notably, the coach anticipates the goaltending situation to be changed and built “all by new recruits.”
The Scarlet and Black are hopeful that next year they’ll return to a greater sense of normalcy. With a schedule featuring more fierce opponents, the coach hopes for a more consistent and healthy 2022-2023 season to make the DI transition more successful.
(Originally published at https://thedailyaztec.com/109251/sports/aztec-hockeys-rough-few-games-leads-to-early-season-end/)