Spartan Robbie Vaughan celebrates with the team earlier this season. Photo courtesy of Hockey Shots Photography.
The San Jose State Spartans started the second semester very differently from their first. The opponents and results of the first two games were the same, but that's where the similarities end. And it certainly didn't continue on the high note that the first semester did.
Broadcaster/third-string goaltender Julian Huguet may have put it best: "I think I can sum it up with the word 'bleegghh'. That's it."
First up, before the trip to Arizona, was a familiar foe for San Jose State: the College of the Canyons Cougars. Unlike the high-scoring affairs these teams played in the first semester, it was a goalie duel as SJSU's Justin Linn and CoC's Taylor Spesak had 51 and 53 saves, respectively. Sam Cimino scored all 4 goals for the Spartans, who took the first game 4-2.
Game 2 was a penalty-filled affair with the pesky Cougars. The Spartans' Robbie Vaughan notched the game-winner on the power play with under a minute to go to make it 4-3, and held off the Cougars just long enough: one more puck passed by the Spartan's goaltender half a second after the final buzzer.
The Spartans would escape with 2 wins to start the semester, but their path would only get tougher with the 3-game road trip to Arizona to take on the Arizona State's Division 1 and 2 squads, as well as Northern Arizona D2.
I was given the opportunity to travel with the team on their trip down south. Between the plane and bus trips, team meetings and rooming with the team, I must say I was impressed and gained a whole new perspective on the hard work that these players put in to the game.
We flew down to Tempe Wednesday night as the Spartans planned to play David to ASU's Goliath the next night. Defeating any Division 1 school in the ACHA would be tough enough, but the Arizona State Sun Devils came in as the #3 ranked team in the nation.
The Spartans held their own on Thursday night at the oddly named Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, AZ. It started with a strong, scoreless first against the Sun Devils.
A flat start to the second period for SJSU would give ASU the 3-0 lead, but the Spartans showed the heart to come back and make it 3-2 Arizona State. The Sun Devils would make it 4-2 later in the game and eventually add one more on an empty-netter.
The game was not the only thing lost that night, however. Star forward Sam Cimino was lost for the entire weekend with an injury sustained in the first period.
"It'd be a real easy cop-out to say that was a reason for our lack of success," said Head Coach Aaron Mullagh. "Obviously we miss Sam a lot, he's a large part of our offense, and we're just really happy to have him back in the lineup this week."
One can only wonder if the Spartans could have tied it up had Cimino not been injured. Regardless, the Spartans sent a message to the rest of the ACHA: They could compete with absolutely any team in the league.
Unfortunately for San Jose State, being able to compete and actually doing it every night are very different things. Arizona State D2 was another strong opponent, #1 in the West region.
"We could have had so much stronger of a showing," said Huguet. "We got the first lead, which is kind of our thing, and then dropped it. But this one was a catastrophe on a scale as yet unseen this season."
The Friday the 13th match up was an unlucky one for SJSU, who were victims of bad bounces and mental mistakes. The confident team that took ASU D1 to the limit now looked dejected against their D2 counterparts who soon made it 6-1 in favor of the Sun Devils.
"We weren't consistent. We played a good first period, had the lead, and then we came out in the second kind of cocky. We just didn't give it all of our effort," said SJSU Captain Kyle Dutra.
One noticeable positive was Spartan Robbie Vaughan, who showed fantastic leadership on the bench, and the team responded with 2 goals before the end of the second period. That momentum did not carry over in to the third, however, and the Spartans dropped their second straight game on the trip 9-3.
The bus trip back to the hotel was a solemn, somber one. This game left a sour taste in the mouths of the Spartans, even after what was an impressive performance the first night.
The next morning, the team would leave for the beautiful Flagstaff, AZ for the final game of the series against the Northern Arizona University Ice Jacks. It looked to be a very even match up: NAU and SJSU were ranked eight and ninth in the West.
SJSU was still without Sam Cimino, and also lost defenseman Mike Bodulow, who came down with flu-like symptoms the night before.
Once again, the Spartans let a 1-0 lead turn into a 3-1 hole as the 7,000 foot altitude of Flagstaff appeared to wear on San Jose State. It was obvious as the game went on that they did not have their normal skating ability.
James Lopez scored for the Spartans as part of the make-shift power play unit without Cimino. Later in the game, trailing 4-2, Nicholas Matejovsky made a fantastic diving play to keep NAU out of the SJSU zone and got the puck back in the slot seconds later. He deposited one in the back of the net to cut the deficit to one.
The Ice Jacks added 2 late goals in the third to make it a 6-3 final. The Spartans fall to 12-10-1 for the year, and only 2-6-1 on the road.
This trip was technically versus three opponents ranked higher than SJSU, but if you ask the Spartans, they honestly believed they should have been able to pull an upset or two. The effort and talent is there, but it's just a matter of putting it all together and playing a full sixty minutes.
"Things added up, you can make excuses," said Coach Mullagh, "but things didn't go our way and we're learning from our mistakes. We're looking forward, not looking back."
The Spartans will have the chance to quickly avenge their one of their losses as they get a rematch against Arizona State D2 this Thursday at 6:45 pm at Sharks Ice.
When asked about what the Spartans had to do differently in the rematch against against the Sun Devils, Kyle Dutra said "I think we just go in it being pissed off knowing that we didn't give our best effort against them the first time. We've got a lot to prove, and I think we can go do it if we just go out there and play our hardest."
The Arizona State game is SJSU's first of 4 games this weekend as they host the Royal Coach Tours Gold Rush Showcase. They will also face San Diego State on Friday, Colorado State on Saturday and Weber State Saunday afternoon.
All the games will be available to stream at FastHockey.com. In addition to that, the games against San Diego State and Weber State will be broadcast live on 90.5 FM KSJS.
I'd like to thank the entire Spartan team for bringing me along on their road trip. In particular, I'd like to thank Steven Stichler, Head Coach Aaron Mullagh, Kyle Dutra and my roommates for the trip: Julian Huguet, John Germaine and Michael Schwartz.