The UCSB men’s roller hockey team won the Western Regional Tournament this past weekend, earning a bid to the National Tournament on April 1 through 5. This is the first regional win for the Gauchos (16-6-2) in nine years. The players were ecstatic with the result and look to keep the momentum rolling.
“It was a great chance for our team to prove to ourselves that we can play with anyone,” Captain MJ Jeffries said. “[We] hope to carry this momentum into the National Championship Tournament.”
Santa Barbara opened the season on a torrid pace, easily capturing first place in the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League and maintaining it for most the year. However, the latest tournament for the Gauchos was disastrous as they went 0-4 and lost their position as top dog in the West. When the tournament began, the Gauchos knew they could compete, but were simply aiming for a bid to Nationals with a top four finish. However, their results exceeded expectations.
UCSB commenced the Regional Tournament against Arizona State, a very tough team. However, the Gauchos pulled off a nail-biting 5-4 victory. Next, Santa Barbara played UC Irvine, a team that had beat them twice earlier in the season. Expecting a tough game, the Gauchos came out firing, and Irvine couldn’t answer back. UCSB dispatched the Anteaters with a score of 5-1 and exited Round Robin play 2-0 in their pool for a first-place seed and a bye straight into the Regional semifinals.
The Gauchos had a rematch against ASU, which they won 5-4 in an extremely intense contest to earn a trip to the finals. In their final game, they would face UNLV, a team they had not defeated all year.
Santa Barbara played well, but was down 4-3 in the third period. After tying things up 4-4 with a minute left to go, junior forward Mike Wiederhold received a foul call and was ejected, leaving UCSB a man down. Though the Runnin’ Rebels looked to capitalize on the power play, the Santa Barbara defense proved strong and the game headed into overtime.
The Regional Tournament overtime used the golden goal format, meaning the team that scores first wins. With that in mind, the Gauchos looked to score early, and that they did. Sophomore forward Adam Gould skated up and fired an impossible shot that put the puck right over the goalie’s shoulder within the first 13 seconds. Santa Barbara won 5-4.
“To go to Nationals, it’s unbelievable,” sophomore goalie Jay Schoen said.
UCSB’s success this year is a big surprise. The Gauchos lost several key members from their team and expected to contend, but never win, the Regional Tournament. However, they now believe they can compete at the nationals, where competition should be at a premium.
“Coming out as the number-one seed from the West should line us up to do quite well at Nationals,” Jeffries said.