February 5, 2014
Salt Lake City
After hosting the ACHA Regionals last year, the Utah Skatin’ Utes are welcoming the best in the PAC 8 Hockey Conference to Salt Lake City this weekend for the 2014 PAC 8 Championships.
The four-day tournament will pit the top six teams in the league against each other in order to determine who will be this year’s conference champion.
The Utes come into this year’s tournament as not only the host and number one seed out of the North Division, but also as the defending champs of the tournament, beating Oregon in Los Angeles last year for their first PAC 8 title.
Much like last year’s tournament, the number of teams are the same but the format has changed. Instead of ranks by just seeding, division crowns were handed out this year as the conference split into North and South Divisions. The two division winners hold the top seeds in their respective pools for the tournament while the other four teams were seeded by their winning percentage.
The end goal is still the same however. Win your pool and you advance to the title game, where one game will decide if you can become a champion.
As the teams get ready to do battle, here’s a look at the six teams that will be competing at this year’s championship tournament.
POOL A (#1 North, #4 and #5 overall seeds)
Pool A this year has some interesting story lines as division winner Utah is put together with I-5 Cup Champion Washington and Crosstown Cup champion USC. The last four PAC 8 champions are in this pool with all three teams winning conference crowns in the last four years. The Utes are defending champs and favorites in this pool with the tournament begin played at their home rink, but they will go up against two of the very few teams that have found success over Utah. UW beat Utah two years ago in the PAC 8 final, which is the last time the two have met in the conference tournament. Then there’s USC who has taken Utah to overtime in each of the last two PAC 8 tournaments. If either UW or USC can upset the Utes, this pool could be very interesting.
#1 North: #5 Utah Utes
Season Record: 26-8
PAC 8 Record: 14-0
PAC 8 Titles: 1 (2013)
The Utes come into this year’s tournament as the heavy favorite, looking for their second title in a row and going undefeated in the conference for the first time ever and winning their conference games by a combined total of 131 to 15. Against teams in their pool, Utah is 4-0 against Washington but haven’t seen USC since last year’s PAC 8 tournament. The Utes are also hosting the tournament which adds to their advantage as they haven’t lost at home all season (15-0). If you want to make it to the final, you’ll have to go through the Utes.
#4 Seed: Washington Huskies
Season Record: 14-12
PAC 8 Record: 8-8
PAC 8 Titles: 2 (2012)
The Huskies are I-5 Cup champs this year after taking it back from Oregon, but are the fourth seed in the tournament due to the Ducks’ better winning percentage. Like the Utes, Washington hasn’t played USC this year either and the Huskies are 0-4 against the Utes this year. Washington is the last team to beat Utah in the conference tournament, as they won the 2012 crown by beating them 2-0 on their home ice. The Huskies sit on the outside looking in at the ACHA top 15 in the west, but don’t take them lightly. With ACHA leading scorer Ryan Minkoff and linemate Corey James on the roster, this team can score at will and often.
#5 Seed: USC Trojans
Season Record: 7-16-1
PAC 8 Record: 6-7
PAC 8 Titles: 8 (2010)
The Crosstown Cup champs are the last seed in Pool A and have one of the worst overall records in the conference, but the Trojans have come alive since the winter break, winning three of their last five games including a 3-2 win over #6 San Jose State last weekend. The Trojans will look to build on that momentum and try and hang a ninth banner back home in Anaheim with another championship this weekend (their 8 titles are the most of any team in the PAC 8). The major hurdle for USC will be that they are the only team in this pool not have played on olympic-sized ice, which is what the teams will be playing on this weekend.
POOL B (#1 South, #3 and #6 seeds)
Pool B has its own drama this year as South Division winner Arizona State goes up against Oregon and UCLA. ASU comes into the pool as the favorite after destroying UCLA earlier this year and going undefeated in their conference schedule as well. The pool also has Oregon, who won Pool B last year to make it to the conference finals. It will be interesting to see how the three teams do against each other in high altitude and on much bigger ice than they’re used to.
#1 South: #15 Arizona State Sun Devils
Season Record: 16-5
PAC 8 Record: 12-0
PAC 8 Titles: none
For everything the Utes did against the teams in the North Division, the Sun Devils have done exactly the same thing to their opponents in the South Division. Posting a perfect 12-0 record in the conference, ASU has outscored their conference opponents 72 to 10 in their 12 conference games. Their 16-5 record has put them in the top 15 throughout the entire season, but have not been able to crack the top ten thanks in part to a lot of games against Division III ACHA opponents. They are also the favorites to win their pool as they dismounted UCLA 18-1 this year and beat Washington twice, who split with the Oregon Ducks.
#3 Seed: Oregon Ducks
Season Record: 13-9
PAC 8 Record: 8-6
PAC 8 Titles: 3 (2009)
Despite losing the I-5 Cup to Washington, the Ducks are this year’s #3 seed after coming into last year’s tournament as the #2 seed. As the second seed out of the north division thanks to having a better win percentage than Washington, the Ducks will have to beat ASU if they want to get to a second straight title game. The Ducks are coming into the weekend with a little momentum as well, winning six of their last eight games. The hurdle for Oregon will be dealing with some new opponents, as the Ducks have not seen either team they will be playing all season.
#6 Seed: UCLA Bruins
Season Record: 4-19
PAC 8 Record: 4-9
PAC 8 Titles: 1 (1999)
It’s been a rough year for the UCLA Bruins as they’ve lost seven of their last eight games and come into the tournament with a 4-19 record. But anything can happen in the playoffs and that has to be UCLA’s mindset going into the weekend. The Bruins have proven throughout the season that they are still dangerous after suffering close losses to some of the best teams in the west, but it will be a tough hill to climb for the Bruins to make it back to the mountain top in the PAC 8. If they can challenge ASU on day one of the tournament, the Bruins may have a shot to get to the final and win something that’s eluded them for 15 years.
The tournament begins Thursday and runs until Sunday afternoon’s championship game. Tickets are available here and if you can’t make it to any of the games, all seven tournament games will be broadcasted live here.