The San Jose State men's ice hockey club team started the 2011-2012 season by sweeping the College of the Canyons Cougars in a two-game series over the weekend at Sharks' Ice in San Jose. The Spartans won game one on Friday night by the score of 7-5, and continued their winning ways with a 9-5 victory less than twenty-four hours later. It was a strong start against the Cougars, the defending Division III national champions.
The Spartans finished last season 17-10 overall before being eliminated in pool play at the ACHA Division II National Championships, which they hosted. It was a season mired in controversy and these first two games were the first chapters in a new era in Spartan hockey.
The Friday night game featured seven different goal-scorers for SJSU. "Instead of having more of devoted checking line or a grinder line, all four lines have guys with scoring touches. I can personally vouch that everybody, all four lines, I know there's someone dangerous out there, who can put the puck in the net and has the confidence to do it," said third-string goaltender and team broadcaster, Julian Huguet in an interview conducted this week.
That's a new philosophy for this Spartan team brought by new head coach Aaron Mullagh. Mullagh, who hails from Burnaby, British Columbia, was hired this summer and replaced Ron Glasow, the only head coach since the team was founded in 1990.
Coaching isn't the only difference between last year's squad and the current roster. Last season's top playmaker Andy Dickerson, shutdown defenseman Jeff Sawhill and former captain Mickey Rhodes moved on from the team in the off-season.
The team will need to find strong play in new places. "I liked seeing how well the players had already implemented the new system that Coach Mullagh has tried to bring to San Jose State. There's a lot of new fore-checking, power-play systems, just general, basic hockey structures that the team has picked up and adapted to right away."
This new style culminated early in game two. After the first period, the Spartans led by a score of 6-0. Huguet said of the post-game meeting, Coach Mullagh especially liked that period, saying it was "very close to a perfect period."
Yet another controversial change this summer affected the team in net. Last year's starting goaltender, Allesandro Mullane transferred to rival Utah State. Michael Steininger, who was the back-up last year, will now be counted on to be the team's workhorse. "Steininger's going to have to be big this season, and I believe he has it in him," said Huguet.
All in all, it was a successful weekend for the team. They'll start their 31-game season with a 2-0 record and a dedication to returning to the national tournament and outperforming last year‘s squad. They want to prove it to themselves and all the fans that come to Sharks' Ice to cheer on the Spartans.
"Getting off to a good start, obviously, gets the team feeling in a great mood, makes us want to win more. We're feeling great already. But it also brings people to the arena and we really like that too." San Jose State's next challenge is another 2 game series, this time with the Portland State Vikings starting Friday at 7:30 at Sharks' Ice. Saturday's game will be broadcast on 90.5 fm KSJS at 7 pm.