Two of those new faces were behind the bench. The San Jose State Spartans made a coaching change last week just a couple days before the showcase. Matt Adams is the new head coach, Aaron Mullagh is back with the team as an assistant coach, and Steven Stichler will remain in his position as an assistant as well.
Mike Watson, who was in his first year as the Spartans' coach, was let go and replaced with Adams. Despite going 4-1 under Watson, the team wasn't satisfied with the direction of the team. It seemed like there was a bit of a rough transition from youth hockey to the college level. "Watson really didn't have full control," said Spartan forward Vince Kilduff.
That should not be a problem with the new coaching staff. Both Adams and Mullagh actually have coaching experience with the team in the past. Mullagh was the head coach for the team last season before stepping down due to other demands. Matt Adams was an assistant coach for SJSU in the 2010-2011 season. Adams is also the Youth Hockey Manager at Sharks Ice and is a former SJSU student.
The general feeling around the locker room is excitement. The team is very happy to have Adams as the new boss, and to have Mullagh back as an assistant as well. "Having Aaron as an assistant, I love it," said Kilduff. "He's really going to push us even more."
With the coaching situation worked out, San Jose State got the showcase started with a solid 5-1 victory over CS Northridge. After the first period, though, SJSU had a 4-0 lead. "We just let off the gas, and we can't do that," said new Spartan defenseman Cody Murphy. "If we want to compete with Utah State and Arizona State we can't let off the gas."
Murphy missed tryouts at the beginning of the year with an injury, and this was his first chance to play with the team. Murphy had a strong debut, putting up 2 assists in the game against Northridge, and finishing with 7 assists through the four-game weekend. "When you make the easy play and rely on your teammates, good things happen," said Murphy. It appeared to be an easy transition. "Hockey's hockey," said Murphy.
The next night, the Spartans fell in overtime to the University of Denver. It was a back and forth game all night, and was tied 4-4 when Vince Kilduff took an unfortunate penalty with just eight seconds left in regulation. "I think I got selfish on a hit - went in for a big hit, and he got rid of the puck," said Kilduff. From the angle I saw in the broadcast booth, there were two Pioneers right by the puck. A pass got by the player that Kilduff hit, triggering a tough luck penalty.
Denver converted near the end of that power play in OT for the win. The puck actually deflected off the stick of Spartan Artur Arias before going in the net. Bounces really weren't going well for SJSU in that game, but the team isn't focusing on that. "We need to put ourselves in a better position at the end of the game not to be in that situation," said Coach Adams.
After that game, it was smooth sailing for the Spartans. San Jose State redeemed themselves for an earlier loss this year with a 10-0 win over CS Fullerton. "We absolutely destroyed them on the forecheck," said Cody Murphy. It was a dominant win for SJSU, and the first shutout for the Spartans and goaltender Mario Retana this year. "I wanted to make sure the players do their best to make a statement," said Coach Adams.
Sunday afternoon, the Spartans wrapped up the weekend with another blowout win. This time it was against a North Texas team with a short bench. But with an 11-1 victory, it's hard to argue that SJSU wasn't playing at the top of their game.
So, the Spartans finished the showcase 3-1, advancing to 7-2 on the season. The first rankings for ACHA Division II come out this week, and SJSU should find themselves in a decent position. Looking around, I've seen SJSU projected to be ranked anywhere from fifth to tenth in the West region. Utah State, Northern Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado State are likely the top four. From there, it's anyone's game.
After finding out where they rank, San Jose State will have a chance to improve their standing with two games against Loyola-Marymount this weekend. Loyola's been a strange hit-or-miss team. They've come up with wins against some strong teams, while dropping some to lesser opponents.
This weekend, the Spartans will look to keep it simple. "Get pucks deep, forecheck hard, pressure when their backs are facing the middle of the ice," said Murphy. Focus on the fundamentals. Well, that and get lot of shots. "We want at least 60 shots a game," said Vince Kilduff. "Just get bodies out front, take shots, rebounds anything we can." Judging from their prior performances this year, 60 shots is not out of the question. The LMU defense will certainly have their hands full.
The Spartans face Loyola-Marymount this Friday at 7:30 pm, and Saturday at 7:00 pm at Sharks Ice. Both games will be live on 90.5 fm KSJS, and streamed online through Black Dog Enterprises. Remember, though, there are only four home games left in the first semester, so don't miss a chance to support the team in person and get your San Jose hockey fix.
Fight on, Spartans!