San Jose State came into the trip 2-0, with strong showings against USC and Utah to start the year. But the road is a whole different animal. And it showed in the first game against the Cal State Fullerton Titans.
Fullerton is not a traditionally strong team, and they were only 1-3 entering the game. But hockey games aren't played on paper. The Spartans blew two leads before eventually losing 3-2. The Spartans couldn't seem to find their scoring touch against the Titans. A lot of credit has to go to goaltender Brandon Heethuis, who made some fantastic stops against SJSU.
But a tough schedule may have plagued the Spartans as well. The game against Fullerton didn't get started until 10:30 pm, but SJSU had a practice scheduled at noon that day in Anaheim. That meant most of the team left the Bay Area around 5:00 am that morning.
"It's good to loosen up the legs," said SJSU's Mario Retana, referring to the practice. "I thought it'd be more beneficial, but obviously that late game, it was just too long of a day for some people. We just couldn't focus."
The team is not content with losing a game they thought they should have won. "In the end you can't make excuses. We should have been prepared regardless," said forward Nicholas Matejovsky.
After a disappointing loss the night before, Coach Mike Watson was looking to shake things up a bit in the second game. And to his credit, they found a scoring touch against the USC Trojans. Well, at least Arthur Arias found a scoring touch. It was a huge game for the rookie forward, as he put up 4 goals against the Trojans after being moved to the third line for that game.
"It was a humbling experience," said Arias. It came as a bit of a shock to him to be moved to the third line, but he stepped up his game in response. The move "sparked a fire in him," said Retana.
Despite the effort from Arias, it was still a surprisingly close game. After leading 3-1, the Spartans gave up three straight goals before scoring three more of their own. San Jose State would come out with a 6-4 victory, but it was a little too dramatic for SJSU's taste. "I think we came in just a little too overconfident from the first 10-2 win against them," said Matejovsky. "It cost us a little, but we fought the adversity and came back."
Saturday night, when the Spartans were facing Long Beach State, they were tired of playing close games. After a good effort, but a scoreless first period, SJSU got down to business. The second line broke through in a big way. Nicholas Matejovsky had a hat trick in the second period, while Ian Seidl netted 2 goals in the third.
Matejovsky was quick to credit his linemates. "Ian really gave me great passes," said Matejovsky. "When it clicks, it clicks." And boy, did it click. All told, the Spartans second line of Seidl, Matejovsky and Mason Console finished with a combined 11 points. The Spartans cruised to an 8-1 win.
It was a huge win for San Jose State after a couple slightly disappointing outings before."I think it was a statement game," said Arthur Arias. "We have a lot of talented players on this team. When we all contribute in the right direction, the scoreboard's going to reflect that."
Coming off the three game road trip, SJSU stands at 4-1 on the year. They'll have four games this weekend to prove what kind of team they are before the first set of rankings come out for the season. The Spartans will play Thursday through Sunday with games against Cal State Northridge, University of Denver, Cal State Fullerton and North Texas.
Don't think the Spartans will overlook the Titans this time around. "We're going to break that goalie," said Mario Retana. "I'm just looking forward to killing Fullerton," said Nicholas Matejovsky. "I really want to make another statement win and show that we can dismantle them just as much as any other team."
The Spartans host the Mid-State Electric Best of the West Showcase this weekend. Their first game gets started tonight at 6:45 pm at Sharks Ice. The games on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday will be live on 90.5 KSJS, while all four will also be streamed on Black Dog Enterprises.
Fight on, Spartans!