Photo courtesy of HockeyShots Photography
The San Jose State Spartans Hockey Club skates out on to the ice to a nice applause from the crowd in attendance at Sharks Ice before the semester finale game against Sacramento State. The chill doesn’t penetrate the layers of gear and pads of Julian Huguet, third-string goaltender and self-pronounced "first-string broadcaster" for the Spartans.
Both teams are warming up for the upcoming game, but San Jose State is taking their team picture today as well. Everyone on the team is in uniform on the ice. Huguet isn’t in this position often. "I haven't played a minute yet this season; I haven't even suited up for a game, but my love for the game has grown all the more."
Huguet isn’t the only one who feels this way; the sentiment seems to be shared by everyone involved with the team. "This game is built on dedication and passion," said Head Coach Aaron Mullagh. "The more dedicated you are, the better the success you have."
But that level of dedication may be expected considering that this is a club team. Just to get on team, there are club fees that cost each new player $4000, $3500 as a returning player. "To put up that kind of money," said Andy Dickerson, the team‘s General Manager, "with many of the players having to fundraise or pay out of pocket, and commit themselves to show up to the rink three times per week for practice, play sometimes as many as four games in four days, and still balance school and work commitments, takes a great deal of discipline and personal fortitude."
Back down on the ice, there are about ten minutes left in the warm-up. Huguet races off the rink and back to the dressing room. The game is getting closer to starting and he needs to get up to the broadcast booth to do play-by-play for the game. He gets back into a suit and tie after stripping off his expensive goalie pads: a decent set of leg pads alone may cost about $1000.
Why go through all the hassle to be on the team, even when there was little to no chance for playing time? Huguet recounted what he told Coach Mullagh when asked the same question after tryouts: "I'm going to be third-string goalie because I want to be a broadcaster. That’s the puzzle piece that I am." Always eager to show off his sense of humor, Julian quips about his jersey number: "I'm number 00 because that's how many playing minutes I expect to get."
Another Spartan who has had to watch from the sidelines this semester is center Steven Stichler, or Sticky as he’s known to his teammates. He’s in a different position than Huguet, however. Stichler, who also doubles as Treasurer of the team, sat out from playing this fall because he only has one semester left of eligibility for the team and he wants to save it for a second-half run with San Jose State.
Stichler has played 157 games with this team over the course of his career, tallying 128 points and 279 penalty minutes in that time. "I like to play an aggressive, in-your-face, physical game, which helps me exercise any built-up stress or angst that has accumulated during the week from my schoolwork or my job," said Stichler. "But, I must admit, taking an active role from the sidelines has given me a much different perspective on the game."
Stichler, even during his semester off from playing, is still devoting himself to the team and the game of hockey. That’s another characteristic that’s shared among everyone involved. There’s a love for the game that is rarely rivaled among other athletes.
This infatuation with hockey is one not lost by current General Manager Andy Dickerson, who played in 175 games for SJSU and holds the team record with 175 assists. "I devoted five years of my life helping push this team to the next level, including expanding our playing schedule with games against as many of the top-ranked teams as possible," said Dickerson. "I wanted to make sure that the current group of players had all the tools they possibly could to help improve the quality of the program and positively add to the now twenty-one year legacy that is San Jose State Hockey and the best way I felt I could do that was to take on a role on the team's staff."
Even while he was a player, Andy was heavily involved in arranging the team’s games to be shown on FASTHockey.com, and setting up the ACHA Division II National Tournament last spring, which the Spartans hosted at Sharks Ice. This experience has proved beneficial to Dickerson, who recently started his own company. He explained, "I've used my love of hockey and youth sports in general in combination with the skills I've learned while obtaining my masters' degree from San Jose State to create my own multimedia production company: Black Dog Enterprises."
Black Dog just covered its first tournament over Thanksgiving weekend, the Seventh Annual Silver Stick U.S. Pacific District Regional Tournament. Black Dog provided video coverage that featured full play-by-play commentary of the games for both DVD recordings and online streaming.
Dickerson was able to get help running cameras and pulling broadcasting talent from his teammates, and the Sports Department of San Jose State’s radio station: KSJS, which included current Spartan Julian Huguet and myself. "I'm pouring a lot of energy into this endeavor," said Dickerson, "and hope to be able to provide high-quality video coverage of as many youth sporting events as possible in and around the Bay Area."
These youth events are becoming more commonplace in San Jose and California as a whole. It is those types of tournaments that helped develop the current generation of Spartan players. "I remember growing up," recalled Steven Stichler, "when we would go to tournaments in more ‘hockey-friendly’ states, people would mock us about our assumed skateboard/surfing skills, and that we were a joke...until we beat them, more often than not."
The continuing exposure of these tournaments and teams to kids in California has been great for the game of hockey here. Head Coach Aaron Mullagh, who originally hails from Burnaby, Canada, moved to the Bay Area with his family as a teenager and brought his love of hockey with him. "With the passion of sports and athleticism we have in the Bay Area now, in conjunction with some of the Canadians moving down and coaching, it’s been a great combination," said Mullagh. "We're producing a lot of really good hockey players now."
Much of the credit in developing players has to go to the Bay Area’s NHL team, the San Jose Sharks. Andy Dickerson said, "I started skating in 1990 solely because my dad told me that a hockey team was coming to San Jose. So I never would have played the game I now love so much had it not been for the Sharks."
Julian Huguet, a relative late-comer to the game, got started playing hockey after seeing former-Shark Evgeni Nabokov play for the team at HP Pavillion. "In San Jose, you go and you watch a game and see them do it and you say ‘That looks like a lot of fun!’ They're winning; they're having a great time. I want to get on the ice, too," said Huguet.
These youth players looked up to the Sharks, as well as the San Jose State Spartan team they currently play on. Coach Mullagh was struck when he was doing interviews with the team before the season: "It was really special to hear that a lot of these guys have dreamt to play on this team."
Unfortunately for the Spartans, their dreams did not come true on the night they faced the Sacramento State Hornets. A hat-trick by Brian Cowell led the Division III Hornets to an upset of the Division II Spartans. This is one that the Spartans feel they definitely should have won, and ends the first semester on a sour note. SJSU is currently ranked eighth in the ACHA’s West region with a 10-7-1 record.
The team stands united, however, in wanting to improve themselves for the second half run. "I feel like the overall prevailing feeling on the team is we can do better," said Huguet. "We all know it, we've looked around. We've seen the mistakes we've made."
Stichler, too, looks to improve in the spring, "I want to do everything in my power to better the program and the team." He continued, "We have a good, competitive second semester schedule - with a lot of ranked teams - so this is our semester to show what this team is truly capable of, and begin our climb back to the top."
Coach Mullagh remained steadfast on the target. From day one, said Mullagh, "Our number one goal is to win a National Championship this year, bring it home to San Jose, and to make this program the best that we can."
As for the broadcaster/goalie Julian Huguet, he will continue working hard and dedicating himself to this team, regardless of whether or not he sees any ice time. "I don’t want anyone looking at even the third-string goaltender slacking off and giving them the excuse to say 'well then I don’t have to do work because the third-string goalie isn’t doing it either.’ I am the weakest link on this team and you're only as strong as you're weakest link."