News Recap

SDSU Hockey Secures First ACHA Division 1 Win

(Photo Credit: @baseballmegs)

The final horn sounded. “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky began, but was quickly drowned out by the roar and applause of fans. SDSU skaters filled into Parks Owensby’s crease, cheering, laughing, and hugging. The Aztecs raised and slammed their sticks to salute their fans. They had their first victory in ACHA Division 1.

“It’s been a long time coming, this is their Stanley Cup tonight,” said head coach Phillip Bateman, smiling.

147 days ago, the San Diego State University Aztecs welcomed fans to the Army Kroc Center for the season-opener. 2022-23 would be their inaugural season in ACHA’s Division 1. 146 days ago, the Aztecs dropped their second-consecutive loss to the University of Colorado Buffaloes in a highly physical matchup. The Aztecs were 0-2.

The following week, the Aztecs dropped both games against Northern Arizona University, a Division 2 opponent the Aztecs had defeated twice last season. The Aztecs remained winless.

“We knew this was not gonna be an easy season, every night was gonna be a battle. No team was gonna be a push-over,” stated Bateman.

Over the course of the next 139 days, the team’s first win of 2022-23 still evaded them. Despite a memorable trip and three games in Las Vegas, three games played in the team’s trip to New York, and 20 total hard-fought matchups—the Aztecs were yet to be rewarded for their efforts.

“When you go winless, it drags on you. It makes you question whether you can play at this level… it’s hard to see improvement,” noted Bateman.

But, the Aztecs had reason to be especially excited for tonight’s matchup against George Mason University. 113 days ago, the Aztecs took the Patriots to overtime in their closest contest of the season, an eventual 3-2 overtime loss. As Bateman put it: “for a while, we’ve circled this game on the calendar where we might be able to steal one.”

The Aztecs took an early lead in the contest, courtesy of Shane Ege’s second goal of the season. After the George Mason University Patriots tied the game, goals from Ian Stentz and Michael Eng saw the Aztecs enter the third period with a 3-1 lead.

The Patriots struck just one minute into the third period. With 8:42 remaining, the Aztecs gave up an untimely short-handed goal. The game was tied, with GMU holding all the momentum and poised to complete the comeback. Day-147 of the Aztecs’ season looked likely to have a similar result as Day-1.

“When that slump happened in the third period—where we gave back our two goal lead—I think they knew it wasn’t George Mason that was putting up this push,” Bateman shared. “We had come out a little bit too flat.”

“Up and down the bench, they were encouraging each other, getting the energy back,” the coach added.

This energy resulted in a moment 147 days in the making:

Ege had the puck behind the Patriot’s net. He flung the puck towards Isaiah Tano in the slot, who tried to get a shot off. The puck found its way to Nolan Conrad, who slid it past the opposing goaltender.

Luke Desmarais’ empty netter sealed the Aztecs’ landmark victory.

“They’ve all improved. From the time we hit the ice back in training camp, to when we got off the ice two weeks ago against ASU: they are a better collection of hockey players. But when you don’t win, they don’t buy it.” Bateman was elated the team could now see the progress they have made throughout the season.

The Aztecs’ head coach was especially complimentary of the team’s effort in tonight’s game: “Attention to detail sometimes comes down to a ‘PK-mentality’; a desperation. Every single time you get out there you have to finish your check, win your puck battle, clear the zone, get pucks down low, do all the cliche little things. They add up to a team-win.”

“I was proud of the guys,” added Conrad, the game-winning goal scorer. “Everybody banged bodies tonight and worked hard. We can see that effort put up on the scoreboard.”

The head coach also mentioned what this victory meant to the club’s seniors: “I think they’ll leave with a lot of pride knowing that they were a part of that first (win). This has been a season of firsts.”

Those seniors will be suiting up in their last season with the Scarlett and Black, as tomorrow the Aztecs will finish their season in a rematch with the GMU Patriots. Puck drop is at 8:30 p.m. for the Aztecs’ final game of 2022-23.


Aztec Hockey Prepares for Challenging East Coast Trip

San Diego State University Hockey (0-6, 0-4 ACHA D1) has experienced several growing pains in their opening ACHA Division-1 season. Winless through their opening six games, the Aztecs will be hopping to earn their first win in of their three games on the East Coast.

That will not be easy, the club’s most recent two-game road trip saw them give up 19 goals through two games. The Aztecs were only able to tally three goals, which all came before they were shutout in the second game.

There’s still some positives to take from their opening losses. Their first games of the season, against the University of Colorado Boulder, were close throughout the full 60 minutes. Despite being outscored 19-3 by Colorado State University, that was largely inflated by a third period deficit of 12-1 through both games. The team must continue to be competitive in their upcoming road trip.

That will be tough with the cross-country flight. Plus, players are dealing with a virus spreading throughout the locker room and key skaters such as Cam Henderson are still recovering from injury.

In Buffalo, the team will face two teams on different ends of the ACHA.

George Mason University (2-5-1 ACHA D1) was one of the worst teams in ACHA Division-1 last season, finishing 58th/68 teams with a 6-17-3. This season has been more of the same for them, notching only 18 goals through eight games and not having a player scoring above a point-per-game.

To contrast, the Aztecs’ Gavin O’Bryan and Lucas Bellig are tied for team-lead in points with seven through six games. The Aztecs will hope to outscore George Mason’s struggling offense this Friday.

On Saturday, the Aztecs will take on West Chester University (4-3-1) who finished 29th in the ACHA’s final rankings last season. Their offense is humming through eight games, with six players having scored three-or-more goals so far this season.

On Sunday the Aztecs will face on another team, selected based on their results of the first two games. These games will be key for the Aztecs heading into a long-break from games. They will not play in November, when the ACHA begins releasing rankings.

For the sake of their upcoming ranking and confidence heading into a month-long hiatus, SDSU Hockey will be champing at the bit for their first win of the season.


SDSU Still Searching for First Division-1 Win

FORT COLLINS, Colorado — San Diego State University’s Ice Hockey program knew their inaugural season in ACHA Division-1 would be a challenging change of pace. Especially when considering they would blow out opponents in Division-2 and -3 with double-digit goals frequently.

Now, the Aztecs (0-6) are on the opposite end of these lopsided affairs. They most recently fell victim to the Colorado State University Rams, who tallied 9 goals on Friday, then added 10 more Saturday in their recent back-to-back games.

In fairness, the Aztecs are struggling with some health concerns. Top-pairing staple Cam Henderson missed the trip with an upper-body injury. The under-manned roster was also battling a cold being spread amongst the team, that was exaggerated by the increased elevation.

“The team is very competitive despite having a clear talent deficiency,” reflected head coach Phillip Bateman. He continued, “Where we lack is confidence. There is a major psych out every game we shouldn’t be on the ice yet with D1 teams.”

Despite the lopsided score lines, but poor third periods exaggerated the Aztec’s defeats. The score after 40-minutes was within two or three goals before their eventual 9-3 and 10-0 losses over the weekend.

“I know we are undermanned at times, that we are not going to have a match-up advantage, so we just have to instill belief in our players, and give them the confidence to play with some pace, and don’t get frustrated,” noted Bateman.

They will have time to work on that. The Aztecs will have two weeks of practices at home before flying cross-country to Buffalo, NY. Their back-to-back will start with George Mason University (2-4), who finished 58th out of 68 Division-1 teams last season. The Aztecs will be hoping for improved health and scoring heading into their East coast trip.


Aztecs’ Resilience Not Enough, Drops Two Games to NAU

SDSU Hockey defeated the Northern Arizona University Icejacks in both matchups last season. Even playing away in Scottsdale, the Aztecs defeated their Division-2 counterparts.

While there was still positives to take away from the weekend, the Aztecs—now in Divison-1—are disappointed to have dropped both games against NAU.

The first game looked out of reach early after Parks Owensby and company allowed three goals in the first four minutes, on route to a 5-1 first period deficit.

Head coach Phillip Bateman felt the team’s “complete lack of focus” led to their poor start. “I don’t think they prepared as tightly as they should have for the game,” said the coach.

In the first period, Bateman lamented “our defensive pride was absolutely non-existent.”

In the second, the team had a new demeanor. This switch of a mentality was in part to a goaltending change, with backup Charlee Lerow taking the crease.

The Aztecs finally started clicking in the third, where senior Blake Reed notched two goals and junior Gavin O’Bryan completed a hat trick. But the team dug too deep of a hole to start and lost 7-6.

Bateman’s message to his team ahead of the second game was “come out here with a little venom… understand who you are and set the tone.”

The second game looked to be more of the same, as an odd-man-rush led to NAU scoring in just over a minute.

When asked, assistant coach Clark Oliver said the coaching staff did nothing different to prepare for the second game. “I think the message was pretty clear. They knew what they needed to do,” offered Oliver.

After exchanging goals in the second period, the game was deadlocked 2-2 for most of the game. Another mishandling of the puck in the neutral zone allowed an Icejack forward a rush, which he slotted five-hole on Owensby.

Even with the goalie-pulled late in the third, and 37 shots on net throughout the affair, the Aztecs could not tie the game. “Their goalie stole that game,” said Oliver.

In their losses, the Aztecs showed resiliency and grit, battling back from early deficits to remain competitive. In two weeks, when the Aztecs travel for the first time this season, the team will need to continue their resiliency against Colorado State University.


Aztecs Remain Optimistic After First Dvision-1 Weekend

As the clock ticked down Saturday night on SDSU Hockey’s 6-9 defeat against the University of Colorado Boulder Buffaloes, the Aztecs looked mentally and physically drained. Many would have expected the Aztecs’ jump to Division-1 to have been a struggle, but the team remained competitive for virtually the entire weekend.

Head coach Phillip Bateman was still complimentary of his team’s fight against the Buffaloes. “I think pretty clearly we’re a tenacious and speedy team,” said the coach. “We had a good game one, and evolved into a better game two… I think this group is learning to keep working hard and we just have to keep on (doing) that.”

Even in their losses, some individual Aztecs shined in their Division-1 debuts. Senior Ian Stentz potted two goals in Saturday’s matchup, despite just scoring five times in all of last season. Sophomore defenseman Lucas Bellig assisted on five of his team’s seven goals over the weekend, including a four-assist night on Saturday.

The main thing SDSU needs to improve upon: Discipline. In the words of captain Mike Pellegrino, “I think a lot of the goals they scored; we just took too many stupid penalties.” The Aztecs logged 27 penalty minutes over the course of their two games.

The captain was still proud of his team’s performance. “I don’t want anyone to hold their head down… Some people wrote us off and figured ‘they (SDSU are gonna get killed by a team that’s been in this league 10 years.’ I think it’s good these were both close games.

“There’s things we need to work on, but I think we belong in this division with everyone else.”

The Aztecs will now be favored heading into this weekend’s matchup against Division-2 team Northern Arizona University. The Aztecs defeated the Lumberjacks in back-to-back away matchups last season and will be chomping at the bit to earn their first win of the season at the Kroc Center on Friday.


Aztecs Stomped by Buffaloes in Season Opener

San Diego State University Hockey lost their home opener 3-1 in their introduction to ACHA Division 1 play.

The game featured a feeling-out period to start, where chances were fairly equal and both teams saw shots glance off the post.

“I think we played most of the first period on adrenaline,” said head coach Phillip Bateman. “We were hyped up with a lot of nervous energy. I think we fell of the sugar rush, in the second period. We fell flat.”

The Aztecs would go down by two in that second period, which featured more noise, post-whistle scrums, and penalties than the first.

On their heels, the Aztecs were able to regain their footing in the third. Sophomore Luke Desmarais’ goal, the team’s first-ever tally in ACHA Division 1, brought SDSU within one.

Late in the third, a shot off the rush beat goaltender Parks Owensby and ended the Aztecs’ comeback bid.

The head coach was proud of his team’s fight in their introduction to the ACHA’s top-flight. He expects the Aztecs to improve as they adjust to the higher level of competition.

“We know we can do better because that was far from our best…. as we start to play these high-end opponents, we’re gonna be forced to do everything a half-step faster.”

The team will have a chance at redemption tomorrow, taking on the University of Colorado Boulder in the second game of the back-to-back.


Parks Owensby’s Crazy Hockey Journey Leads to New Home in San Diego

“Pretty much every significant relationship I’ve ever had, I’ve seen collapse under the weight of hockey. I’ve lost friends, missed out on experiences. You’ve gotta be tough.”

Many would write off Parks Owensby. At first glance, many could see the junior economics student as a traditional and ordinary San Diego resident or typical frat guy.

But, that could not be further from the truth. The 25 year-old goalie is currently living out of a hotel as he prepares to take the crease Friday night in San Diego State Hockey’s season opener. Luckily, over a decade of turmoil and pressure has prepared the goalie for his unique and stressful situation.

Currently, he’s over 2,000 miles away from where his love for hockey began. In Atlanta, Georgia, he was always drawn to the sport over more traditional options like baseball, basketball, or football.

“I just kinda fell into it. Which is weird being in Atlanta… As soon as I started playing I was attracted to the position (goaltending). I guess you get to play the whole game, which sounded like a good deal,” said Owensby. 

“As I’ve gotten older I realize it’s the challenge of it that I like the most. That’s what draws me to the position is how complex it is; how technical it is.”

His love for the game would be a constant, and a necessity for his 2014-15 season of junior hockey. The youngster traveled to teams in Maine, Illinois, and Vancouver in hopes of finding a full-time spot, but he never did.

In 2015-16, he returned home to play for the Atlanta Capitals in the NA3HL, the third tier of US junior hockey. Owensby could not praise the highs of junior hockey enough, citing the travel and constant ice-time as far outdoing a traditional schooling experience.

“You learn to interact with people, and learn to make new friends every year and be part of a team… it was a good experience. It hasn’t always been fun, but it’s served me in life.”

Unfortunately, his next two seasons would be missed due to his dealing with a significant hip injury. This saw him lose eligibility for junior hockey, and forced him to look elsewhere to continue his hockey career

“I started training really hard and was blasting emails everywhere asking, ‘who needs a goalie?!’ I was fortunate enough that Robert Morris was in a position where they needed a guy.

“At the time, that was one of the premiere programs.” Based out of Chicago Illinois, Robert Morris University was a quality program where the goalie saw himself finishing his hockey and academic careers.

But, scandals and abuse allegations scorned the image of Robert Morris University’s hockey program which saw the club lose funding and team members seemingly overnight.

“My sophomore year we played with like 11 players. It was a mess:”

He left Robert Morris for greener pastures, and after a brief trial at the University of Pittsburgh Owensby found himself again without a team to play on heading into the 2021-22 season.

“COVID interrupted everything for everyone,” noted the optimistic Owensby. “It interrupted recruiting and people playing games. I knew there was going to be an opportunity somewhere. I just wasn’t really sure when or where.”

With multiple offers on the table, the goalie elected to sit out for the season. “I wasn’t really willing to just jump at something. I figured that this was going to be my last chance.”

He trained on-ice several times per week, in hopes that next season would have more attractive offers. But, doubts started to set in and the goalie often found himself wondering, “Am I chasing a ghost? Is there really something here, or has it passed me by?”

On the verge of joining a different university, SDSU Hockey presented an offer that Owensby could not refuse. With just one goalie on the roster, 2021-22 backup Charlee Leerow, head coach Phillip Bateman was in dire need of a new starting netminder heading into the team’s first season at ACHA Division 1 level.

However, admitting Owensby to the university proved challenging. As the goaltender recalls, “I officially committed to the program on a Thursday and showed up the following Monday for class.”

“I showed up here with no place to live; don’t have my car… had five changes of clothes and a hockey bag. It’s not the first time I’ve been functionally homeless to play hockey, but this is definitely the nicest place I’ve been functionally homeless to play hockey.”

Owensby turned down ranked ACHA D1 teams in favor of joining the Aztecs. At first glance, that may seem odd. Why would a 25 year-old junior opt to cross the country and play for a program just making the jump to Division 1?

“I wanted the challenge of helping build something. We’re building something here and you don’t get many opportunities in your career to be a cornerstone of something bigger. Usually you’re a brick higher up in the wall, and it’s nice to be part of that wall, but everybody hears about the guys who helped lay the foundation.”

“We get to be one of those guys,” touted Owensby.

SDSU Hockey will start their inaugural Division 1 season on Friday against the University of Colorado Boulder. On making his debut in Scarlet and Black, the goalie claimed, “I’m just excited to meet our fans.”

“Seeing the pictures and videos of seasons past of how crazy and rowdy the Kroc gets, it’s exciting.”

Although, the netminder’s main focus this season is about building the program and hockey’s outreach into Southern California. “Our goal is to open doors for kids behind us, in Southern California so they don’t have to travel 3,000 miles to play hockey…

“like I did,” chuckled Owensby.


SDSU Hockey Created a Make-Shift Fraternity for Students

20-on-20 brawls, thrown water bottles aimed at opposing mascots, trips to LA Kings games, and $1-beers. Perhaps, all those things make you think of one of San Diego State’s fraternities. Or maybe, a spring break trip for college students to remember for the rest of their lives.

However for early SDSU ice hockey players, these were normal, even necessary, actions in order to keep the club team going.

Next season, the program is set to make history by becoming the only Division I hockey program in California. The American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) granted them this status ahead of the 2022-23 season as a compliment to their commitment to growing hockey’s popularity at not only the university’s campus, but the San Diego area in general.

In the late 1990s, the SDSU Hockey program was a club of men who just wanted to continue playing hockey. Few competed in the upper echelon of midget hockey leagues, and none were scouted by a coach or staff member. In fact, the team struggled to even acquire a coach in the early days.

When current alumni Brian “Moose” Muslusky joined the team, found it to be a “hodgepodge group of players” that were just hoping to “pay the bills” and continue playing their favorite sport. At that time, the club was fully funded by the students, and the center’s goal was “paying the bills and getting through the season.”

His first season with the club, 1998, saw the team torch their opponents. The former Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) was often a cake walk for the former Double- and Triple-A skaters—the team lit up opposing teams to the tune of 10-0 on some nights.

As Moose recalls, “That first year, I think we scored — I don’t remember the exact number — like 190 goals in about 16 league games… I think we scored 20 in one game.

“That’s what ended up leading us to the road of joining the ACHA.”

But, the top club league for collegiate hockey has grown since the 90’s as well. Moose said the team “wanted to play better competition… and we had another group of incoming freshmen that played Double-A or higher, so had we played in the PCHA, we would have destroyed everybody. It wouldn’t have been fun.”

That first ACHA season saw the Aztecs bring on a new coach in Greg Freidman and finish around a .500 record. After making a large jump in the quality of competition, the Aztecs were surprisingly competitive. But as Moose said, “that’s what ended up biting us in the ass the next year.”

The playoff format at the time for the ACHA was flawed. With no official website and rankings often solely based on record, teams could be rewarded for playing weaker opponents if it inflated their record. After exceeding expectations in their first season and a superb preseason showing against the University of Southern California in 1999, teams were hesitant to travel far South to face a challenging opponent to lessen the risk of hurting their record.

Now in their second ACHA season, the team had to travel far more than anticipated. The program, primarily funded by the student athletes, had to resort to more cost-friendly operations. As Moose put it, “We were essentially on our own, flipping bills.” They were largely responsible for supplying all the aspects needed to run a hockey team such as equipment, jerseys, payment for ice time, etc..

“We ended up dropping out of the ACHA at one point… we were on our own financially.” Because of that financial struggle, players ended up leaving the team and the quality of the club took a dip.

The struggle even saw the university suspend the club’s operations and put them at risk of fully losing their team. In order to stay financially secure, the team returned to the PCHA to lower travel costs, practiced late in evenings when ice-time was cheaper, and purchased only red jerseys.

Thankfully, the team was able to survive that hardship. When Jeff Shields took over as club president, the organization already had to pay a large outstanding debt to their local rink.

Shields got into hockey later in life, but his maturity and coaching background were exactly what the club needed at that time. He brought the club to a time of financial security, secured a coach, and added a sponsor.

Still in search of more funding,  they needed to entice fans to drive decent distances to attend games. The Aztecs upped their advertising with posters around campus and offered $1-beers for those who made the 30-40 minute drive to home games.

Back in the PCHA, the Aztecs continued their dominance to finish the 1990s. In Shields’ two seasons, SDSU won a PCHA title, he took home a single-season scoring title, and the team built a sturdy foundation from which they could grow to where they are now.

When Shields was at SDSU, he always had a goal of re-joining the ACHA. “That was my push, when I was there, to develop a team enough to get into the ACHA.”

The following season, unfortunately without Shields, SDSU was finally stable enough to be reinstated to the second division of the ACHA. After more than two decades in the second division, the Aztecs will make their jump to the highest level of competition for 2022-23.

While these alumni were certainly the early pioneers that allowed the hockey program to grow into its current state, both Moose and Shields enjoyed their stints in college hockey for the fraternity and community they privileged to join.

Most of these players spent the better part of their college careers together. Moose fondly recalls rooming with his teammates, in addition to spending time over the summers and during travel to away games. As Shields put it: “It would’ve been a far less fun experience being at school had I not played hockey.”

In addition to on-ice successes, there are so many other great memories for these players. With college-aged players, large scrums between teams happened often. One such situation saw Moose get “into it with the Washington Huskies’ mascot.” Tensions flared and eventually the skater “drilled him in the head with a water bottle.”

While the program has moved on from simply trying to remain afloat, the bond of the players will never change. As Moose repeated “at the end of the day, through its ups and downs, it was like our own fraternity. We’re all still friends.”