Defending Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League champion UCSB went undefeated at a league event in Huntington Beach on Saturday and are currently ranked No. 1 overall in the conference.
With just six active players on the roster due to injuries, the Gauchos entered the weekend facing plenty of adversity. Their opponents had eight to 10 players on the bench and the luxury of having their games spread out across both days of the tournament.
“We had the toughest schedule we could possibly have,” senior defenseman Travis Noe said. “We played [defending national champions] Long Beach State, Arizona State, UNLV, who was the only undefeated team in the first tournament, and U of Arizona, which is a new team in the league.”
The Gauchos adjusted for their short bench by slowing the game down, focusing on puck control and patience in an effort to force their opponents to play over-aggressively and create openings.
“We only had six players for all of our games, so we came in thinking that we had to control the game,” sophomore defenseman Christian Simonsen said. “We just really had to come together and play like we practiced and I think we did a good job of that.”
The Gauchos started off the day with a 6-2 win against the University of Arizona, holding the Wildcats without a shot on goal in the first period and limiting them to just one in the third. Overall, the Gauchos outshot their opponent 23-6. Noe had two goals and two assists, Casey Wedge had two goals and an assist and Josh Haddox had one goal and two assists in the game.
“By controlling the flow of the game and not taking too many chances you actually end up benefiting,” Noe said. “It’s really important in roller hockey to let the other team come to you and to let them make mistakes and capitalize on them.”
Their second game of the day was against UNLV, who they beat comfortably by a score of 7-3. The Gauchos went up 6-1 on four unanswered goals in the second period and never looked back. Simonsen posted two goals and two assists in his best game of the tournament and Noe added a hat trick.
Just two hours later, the Gauchos faced their toughest test of the day: reigning National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association champions Long Beach State, who they downed by a score of 8-7.
In a back-and-forth game, the Gauchos found themselves trailing 4-3 entering the third period before exploding for four unanswered goals and taking control of the game from there. Colin Palmer scored four goals, all in the third period, while Noe had a goal and five assists.
Next on the schedule were the ASU Sun Devils, who beat the Gauchos a month back in San Jose. The dead-tired Gauchos, who started their day 11 hours earlier, scored the first two goals of the game in the second period and were able to hold the lead from there, eventually winning by a score of 6-4.
“The puck movement and puck control we had this weekend — teams couldn’t hang with it,” Noe said.
“We have a really good team this year,” Wedge said. “Having the best player in the nation helps.”