Aztecs hockey drops first ACHA Division 1 series against Colorado

San Diego State opens 2022-23 season in the highest level of U.S. club college hockey competition.

San+Diego+State+forward+No.+71+Ian+Stentz+fires+a+shot+at+Colorado+goalie+Liam+OGwen+as+defenseman+No.+12+Jack+Ferguson+dives+during+the+Buffalos+3-1+win+on+Friday%2C+Sept.+23+at+Kroc+Center+Ice+in+San+Diego%2C+Calif.+It+was+the+first+game+in+ACHA+Division+1+for+the+Aztecs.

Eric Evelhoch

San Diego State forward No. 71 Ian Stentz fires a shot at Colorado goalie Liam O’Gwen as defenseman No. 12 Jack Ferguson dives during the Buffalos 3-1 win on Friday, Sept. 23 at Kroc Center Ice in San Diego, Calif. It was the first game in ACHA Division 1 for the Aztecs.

by Eric Evelhoch, Staff Writer

In a year highlighted by San Diego State intercollegiate athletics moving into a new home stadium, the Aztecs club hockey team has moved up a level in competition.

SDSU opened its Division 1 era with a pair of losses to visiting University of Colorado, 3-1 on Friday night and 9-6 on Saturday night at Kroc Center Ice.

Sophomore forward Luke Desmarais scored the first goal of the year for the Aztecs and finished the series with two goals and an assist, while sophomore defenseman Lucas Bellig dished four of his five assists on Saturday.

“This is a step up, we competed,” senior defenseman and team captain Michael Pellegrino said. “It’s good that they were both close games and there’s things we need to work on, but I think we belong in this division with everyone else.”

SDSU now competes as an independent team in the West Region of the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s top flight. The Aztecs spent past seasons as a member of the Pac-8 and before that the West Coast Hockey Conference in Division 2.

“It takes a while to re-establish an identity when you move up to a new level, so I was proud of the effort,” seventh season head coach Phil Bateman said.

A significant part of that identity will be fresh faces, as 10 of the 24 players on the roster are new to the program.

Senior forward Michael Eng is the top returning scorer with 15 goals and 14 assists in 16 games with stats available last season, while Pellegrino led the defense with seven goals and 12 assists. Senior Blake Reed (10 goals) and sophomore Marcus Kim (eight goals) add additional offensive punch up front.

Trailing 2-0 in the third period on Friday, Desmarais took a feed from Bellig and found room between the top of the circles to snap a wrister past Buffaloes goalie Liam O’Gwen. Colorado added a late insurance goal with just under four minutes to go to seal the 3-1 result.

“It feels good (to score the first Division I goal),” Desmarais said, “but I would’ve liked to win better.”

Junior goalie Parks Owensby finished with 31 saves in his first appearance for the Aztecs, as Colorado outshot the hosts 34-23.

Saturday SDSU jumped out to an early lead on sophomore forward Neil Murphy’s first of the season just over six minutes into the game, but Colorado pulled even 2:20 later to send it to first intermission tied 1-1.

Junior forward Gavin O’Bryan scored his first as an Aztec to tie the game at 2-2 2:45 into the second, but the Buffaloes scored the next two goals to take the lead for good. Desmarais scored in the second, then Eng and senior forward Ian Stentz each scored in the third to pull SDSU back within one, but that would be as close as they would come for the rest of the game.

“We were a little more focused today, we learned from last game but we were with each other more and connected our passes more,” Stentz, who finished the game with a pair of power play goals, said.

After dropping their first two games of the season, the players focused on discipline.

“Whether that’s taking less penalties, taking a hit to make a play or putting our teammates in a better opportunity, that’s something we’re going to look to take to practice and improve on,” Bellig said.

San Diego State hosts Northern Arizona in their final two home games of the 2022 calendar year at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1 at Kroc Center Ice. The Aztecs will be on the road for the following eight games afterward until a two-game series against Grand Canyon on Jan. 6 and 7.

“I think we’re going to give a lot of team fits,” Bateman said.

“The fact that we had a good game one and evolved into a better game two shows that this group is learning to keep working hard.”