After going undefeated in six games against some of the strongest teams in the nation, it is official — the Gauchos are the 2011-12 West Coast Roller Hockey League champions.
Santa Barbara beat all four other teams invited to the tournament in the round-robin stage on Saturday. First, the Gauchos knocked off defending national champions Long Beach State 10-5, followed by a 9-1 trouncing of No. 3 seed UNLV and two hard-fought one-goal wins over Arizona State and rival Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“Jumping out 6-0 in the first period against Long Beach in the very first game set the tone for how ready our team was for this tournament,” defenseman Travis Noe said. “Everyone embraced the big stage and that extra confidence helped us get to another level.”
Entering the final day of the tournament with two elimination games against teams they had beaten a day earlier, the Gauchos were confident.
“We knew it was our championship to lose,” forward Colin Palmer said.
A 3-2 win over UNLV propelled them to the final, where the Gauchos downed Cal Poly by a score of 6-1, holding the Mustangs to just 13 shots.
“The highlight of the tournament was definitely lifting the cup,” defenseman Casey Wedge said. “Beating Cal Poly in the championship game felt great.”
UCSB outshot their opposition in every game of the tournament, a tangible representation of their consistently strong, systematic play.
“We were methodic and patient with our breakouts and frustrated teams with our defensive trap,” Palmer said. “We really controlled every game we played.”
Defenseman Jake Wiskel and goaltender Tyler Barrier played their best hockey of the year, with multiple teammates singing their praises afterward. Travis Noe was a dominant force, leading the weekend’s scorers with 25 points and three game-winning goals in six games en route to being crowned tournament MVP.
“It was really a team effort to win this championship,” Palmer said. “Every person on this team has an important role, and everyone stepped up and played exceptionally.”
“This team has a family dynamic that makes it incomparable to any I’ve ever played on,” forward Justin Bargar said. “We all do it for each other.”
Despite the euphoria that comes with such an accomplishment, the Gauchos realized that the season isn’t quite over yet. After a little “Levels” by Avicii in the locker room to celebrate, a keg or four and a lot of love and congratulations from friends and family, it’s back to business.
Starting April 11, UCSB will join 24 of the best Division I teams in the country to compete at the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah, and internal expectations are high.
“This is the strongest Division I team the school has ever had and we plan on bringing UCSB its first national title,” forward Max Ryan said.
“I expect nothing less than the national championship,” Palmer added. “If I was on a different team at nationals, I’d be scared to play us.”