1. Arizona State University
This seems like a given, with ASU’s national no. 2 ranking in preseason polls. However, the Sun Devils lost star goaltender Dylan Westfall to graduation last year. Westfall was the best goaltender in SLC South history, with a 6.48 average goals allowed on his career. He was also 7th in SLC history, and only one player above him on that list played in as many games as he did.
Back-up goaltender Brandon Propp, however, will look to pick up where Westfall left off, and the team around him has only gotten better. All three captains (Payson Clark, Zach Scarano, Jon Little) are returning and bring leadership to three different positions.
Most important, though, is the youth of this ASU roster. Ben Martynec, Dan Davis, Cooper Pickell, and Rockne Repp all topped 20 points as freshmen last season. Zach Handy, also a freshman last year, was one of the leading face-off specialists in the conference.
2. Grand Canyon University
The second spot in the SLC South is a toss-up between Arizona and GCU, but based on last season’s results it has to be the Lopes. Although this was a Dll team last year, it’s no surprise they were bumped up to play with the big boys after going 3-1 against SLC South teams, including two wins over the Arizona Wildcats.
This team was young last year, and will be returning its top seven point-scorers. However, losing goalie Andrew Hunter (15-2, 5.12 GAA) to graduation will be tough. Backing Hunter up last year was freshman Jordan Johnson, who is expected to get the starting nod this season. He will however be faced with pressure from back-up AJ Wilkerson. The two goalies split time in GCU’s season-opener against San Diego State University.
After winning the SLC Dll tournament and winning a first-round match-up, the team is experienced and ready to make a deep run at the next level. It won’t be an easy transition to playing tough teams, like no. 2 ASU, no. 3 Cal Poly, no. 4 BYU, no. 5 Chapman, no. 11 UC Santa Barbara, and no. 23 University of Arizona. However, every game this season besides SDSU and Cal Poly is slated as a home game; having the chance to take on these teams as the host should give the Lopes an edge.
3. University of Arizona
The Wildcats are narrowly in the MCLA’s top 25, but don’t think this team is poised to finish second in the SLC South again this year. Last year, the Wildcats finished .500 (8-8) in the regular season. Arizona had only a couple of quality wins, a 10-9 thriller at home over Colorado and a 7-6 road victory against Texas. Finally, the season ended on their SLC tournament loss to Chapman in the semifinal round.
This year, the team will be looking to ride one of the MCLA’s most talented players in William Stanaback, who recorded 36 assists (fifth in MCLA) and a total of 67 points (first in SLC) in 2012. Midfielder Mike Hook wasn’t far behind with his 52 points, but he’s since graduated and will leave a gaping hole in the Wildcat offense.
The middle of the year was plagued with goaltending woes, as the team endured a seven-game stretch allowing 10 or more goals. The team’s record was also a lowly 1-6 over that span, putting the squad in a tough position to finish the season with a playoff spot.
This year, the schedule looks pretty reasonable for a 10-11 win season, although the Wildcats will have to avoid a rough midseason stretch to contend for the number two spot in the SLC South.
4. San Diego State University
The drop-off from the three-spot to the four-spot is dramatic; last year, the Aztecs sported only a 1-3 record versus SLC South teams. Their lone win came against the Torreros, who sit in last on this list.
The only quality wins for SDSU last year came against Loyola Marymount (whose .500 in-conference record gave them a third place finish in the SLC North) and Cal State Fullerton, who, despite being a Dll team, finished the season with 17 wins.
Last year, the team was plagued by virtually non-existent offense. There were only two players who finished with more than 10 points on the season. The team averaged 5.86 goals per game, making it difficult to contend in games. However, the defense was there when needed, and held teams under 6 goals per game in victories.
The team lost very few players to graduation, therefore experience will be key for the Aztecs going forward. Finding senior leadership will be difficult, and should be taken into account.
5. University of San Diego
USD is in a rough spot right now, because there’s not much to look forward to for the Torreros. Their season-opening victory over Loyola Marymount was a shocker, but this team is going to have difficulty putting up five total wins on the year. Their schedule is much softer than last year’s, but they’ve still got to up against the likes of ASU, Chapman, Texas, and even the SLC South teams above them on this list (SDSU, UA, GCU).
Sophomore goaltender Derek Scozzafava, coming off a freshman campaign in which he allowed an average of 8.64 goals allowed per game and recorded only two wins, will be looking to break the barrier and emerge as a protector and a winner. Fortunately, he’ll have some offense to help him out.
Freshman Aidan Kennedy may be the team’s saving grace. He’s already put up 9 goals in only two games, and against formidable opponents in UCLA and LMU. His one assist gives him a crisp five points per game.
Attacker Blake Ferraro put up 37 points last season, in just his first season with the Toreros, and has taken a bit more of a reserved role with only 5 points in the season’s first two games. Midfielder Simon Menard’s trend is the exact inverse, as he’s already surpassed his four point total from last year.