Fireside Chats: Sam Cimino of the San Jose State University Spartans

Photo courtesy of Carla Dickerson

Sam Cimino is a key member of the San Jose State Spartans hockey team which recently finished 10th overall at the American College Hockey Association Division II National Championships in Connecticut. Although they were the lowest Western seed in the tournament, they took top ranked Ohio State to overtime in the first round, losing 4-5. They also played well in a 3-5 loss to the two seed Michigan State, and defeated last year's National runner up Central Connecticut State by a score of 4-2 in their final game. Cimino had a team high four goals in the tournament.

Plank and TCY had an opportunity yesterday to talk to the sophomore winger over the phone. Cimino led the Spartans with 33 goals in the regular season and was second in points with 68, averaging 1.74 points a game. Cimino is a former member of the San Jose Junior Sharks, and has spent his entire career playing in San Jose.

The San Jose State Spartans play their home games at Logitech Ice in San Jose. They are a club team, and donations of any size are always welcome. You can visit their website at SJSUHockey.net and make donations here. The team will host the ACHA Division II National Championships in 2011.

Sam, we wanted to start with some questions about San Jose's recent play at the National Tournament. SJSU partially relied on outside donations to obtain the funds to travel to the playoffs-- were you surprised by the community's willingness to contribute to your team?

I was somewhat surprised, That Comcast spot really helped us out. I think we made something like $1,200 in 12 minutes. I think it's a surprise that people who didn't even know about the program came out and donated. It was really nice and we really appreciated it, I think we underestimated how much money we could bring in.

Does this give you hope that the Bay Area hockey scene may be gaining even more traction as time goes on?

Definitely. It's great that people here want to support hockey and youth hockey in California. I think alot of the people who donated were hockey parents who wanted to us to go as far as we could. That leads to more local support in the future.

What do you think about San Jose State's chances next year? 

I think we have a really good chance. Going to Nationals this year was a big help and it showed that we can play with these teams. We played a really good Ohio State team, they were ranked number one, and we tied them in regulation and lost in OT. Really it was two second period showings where we were really bad. We gave up 8 goals in the three second periods we played in the tournament. If we improve our play and play consistently throughout the whole game, we could have easily beaten Ohio State and Michigan State... we could have gone 3-0 in our pool and advanced. The semifinal team in our pool wasn't the best, and I think we could have been 1 or 2 in the nation. Davenport, the team that won, is now moving to Division I club, so I think we have a really good chance next year especially since it's on home ice. We have the same team, no one is leaving. We also have some really good additions coming in; I think that Gage Emerson, a player on the Junior Sharks AAA team, will be joining us next year as well.

Who inspired you to get into hockey?

The Sharks. I was at a Sharks game and they had the Future Sharks come out during the intermission, and I told my mom that I wanted to do that, I wanted to play on that ice. So I did.

Who was your favorite player growing up?

Pavel Bure. I really liked how fast he was. And the skill, he could really score.

Favorite Shark?

It's a toss up between Heatley and Thornton.

With so much of the NHL's talent coming from Canada and the Northeastern United States, what are the disadvantages of being a hockey player growing up in California?

I would say that the disadvantage is that no one really pays attention to California. It's up and coming now, but before the Sharks, there wasn't much in Northern California. I guess when Wayne Gretsky came to the Kings, it really changed everything, and the disadvantage there was it made California players change their game and go all skill. There was no real grit or smarts; the stereotype for California hockey players since then is that they're just roller hockey players.

Any advantages?

No more than any other state out there. I'd say theres a good amount of available ice, and the quality of ice is good. But if you work hard enough and you're on the ice every day, I don't think there's any advantage over any other state.

Recently, former San Jose Jr. Sharks player Casey Wellman made his NHL debut with the Minnesota Wild. You also played with the Jr. Sharks up until last season. How is that program making headway in developing Californian born players?

The Junior Sharks are actually one of the best organizations in the west. We've produced not only Casey Wellman but also Corbin McPherson, who was drafted by New Jersey. We're up and coming and getting alot of attention now. We're doing a good job of getting our players ready for college and junior programs and then the pro's. It's a great program.

Did you know Casey, and what do you think of his decision to play high school hockey in Michigan? Do you think that's necessary to get noticed as a California player?

I did not know Casey, but actually a few players on my SJSU team know him from growing up in Michigan. High school hockey is a valid way to get noticed, it's close to the same level as AAA. Maybe it's more of a stepping stone because people pay attention more in the midwest and the east, and that's where the hockey high schools are.

Do the Junior Sharks play in National tournaments, and where do you usually place?

I never played in the National tournament, but the AAA team recently made it to Regionals and lost in the semifinals. So far only the AA team has made it to Nationals and they won one game. It's a tough road to Nationals, there's a lot of good teams in California. Also, in the reigion there are really good teams in Colorado and Alaska too. California is emerging on the hockey scene, so it's tough to get by those teams.

As one of the better players in California for your entire career, how do you feel about the exposure you received? Would you have done anything differently to get your name out there?

I feel like I did a pretty good job, playing AAA hockey was a good decision for me. I tried out for some junior teams and got drafted to the NAHL. It didn't work out at the junior level, but I wouldn't change anything. The only way I was going to get noticed playing in high school would be to move out to the midwest and away from California, and that's not something I wanted to do. If you're in California, the best way is to go AAA.

Despite playing just one year thus far with San Jose State, you've put up some big numbers. Your points per game of 1.74 is second to only SJSU's all time leading scorer Sean Scarbrough since 2000, and you rank 33rd all time in points scored. How important are those stats to you, and do you think you'll be close to Sean by the time you graduate?

The stats are nice, but they're not as important as winning. We have a really good team. It's fun to be trying to catch Sean, he was really good for San Jose State, he scored goals and was great offensively. But it's about winning. I'll try to get as close as I can; I'm wondering how since I'm playing four years instead of five, but I'll try to get as close as I can, especially if it leads to wins for SJSU.

How long do you plan on playing hockey?

I want to play for the rest of my life. I'll play through college and then adult leagues after that, any way I can stay on the ice. I think I'll eventually want to get into coaching, but I want to play as long as my body lets me. I still have a while, though.

We know you're a big Sharks fan. How do you think the team will fare this post season, and what do you think has been missing in years past?

It's hard for me to predict what they're going to do, I can't really know. I think they still need one more defenseman, that's one of the major things they've been missing in years past. That and game elevation. I think every other team has been able to elevate and play a "playoff game", and I don't think San Jose has done that in the last few years. They play a great regular season game but that's not enough in the playoffs. I think that's what happened last year, they got outplayed . I know Jonas Hiller stood on his head, but you have to find a way to put it past him in the playoffs.

And I think they need to ditch Kent Huskins (laughs).

Even within the traditional hockey markets in the United States, young players are more commonly drawn to football, baseball, and basketball. Why do you think this is? What can be done to draw young players to hockey?

I think it's on the bottom because that's where it is on the professional. Not many people watch hockey, and it's only really broadcast on Versus. Versus is a good channel, but they're more focused on bull fighting...

Bass fishing...

Exactly. I think the whole TV situation is a mess. The "NBC Game of the Week" that features either Pittsburgh or Detroit doesn't help, because it doesn't give other teams the opportunity to capture fans. It's really promotional and I don't think they do a good enough job at it.

Do you think the showing by team USA will help?

I think it could. USA played really well, they should have beaten Canada in my opinion. That was a fluke goal by Crosby. Miller was really disappointed and I thought he played great, but yeah I think that game and the Olympics in general could get more people watching hockey.

Finally, do you have any advice for other players growing up in a non-traditional hockey market?

What I try to do is just work hard. If you want to go pro, you just have to work out and get out on the ice as much as you can. It's really just about practice and the commitment, and if you put that in you should be able to go as far as you want.

Fear the Fin would like to thank Sam Cimino and the San Jose State Spartans Hockey Club for helping to facilitate this interview.

Go Spartans.

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