Considering the way San Jose State's earlier road trips have gone, last weekend's trip to Southern California could have been a disaster. Instead, the #7 Spartans (17-7-1) played some of their most dramatic and entertaining hockey of the year.
The Spartans opened the trip with a Friday night match-up with the #10 San Diego State Aztecs. Honestly, this was the game that worried me most for SJSU. The Spartans would be without Arthur Arias, second in scoring at the time, who was home recovering from the flu. On top of that, the last time the Spartans had to make the trek down to So-Cal, they looked sluggish and lost 3-2 to a Fullerton team they should have easily handled. This time, things went differently.
Sam Cimino scored early in the first for SJSU after throwing the puck in front off a San Diego stick, but the Aztecs quickly answered, and a 1-1 score would last for most of the game. Although unable to convert on a five-minute powerplay earlier in the game, the Spartans did get a power play goal from Nicholas Matejovsky mid-way through the third to take the 2-1 lead. Kyle Dutra picked up the secondary assist on that play, giving him 200 points in his career - only the sixth player to do so in team history.
It looked like the Spartans were going to close it out, but the Aztecs were pressing hard. With under ten seconds left, offensive dynamo Kevin Vaughan streaked in on a 2-on-1 toward SJSU goaltender Mario Retana. Vaughan connected on a pass across the slot, but a diving effort by Retana made the save. Retana told me after the game that the puck came off his shoulder. Time seemed to expire, and the Spartans poured off the bench to surround their goalie. It was a great moment, until the public address announcer chimed in over the speakers with "The game is not over." Apparently, the net had become dislodged with 1.6 seconds. Luckily for San Jose State, the faceoff was in the neutral zone, and the Aztecs were unable to get a scoring chance in that time.
The gritty win earned the Spartans a rare morning to sleep in, and it seemed to be exactly what they needed to face the #8 Loyola-Marymount Lions. Remember how the Sharks dismantled Edmonton last night in the first period? Yeah, that's pretty much what the Spartans did to LMU.
Goals from Kyle Dutra, Sam Cimino (x2) and Nicholas Matejovsky gave SJSU a 4-0 lead after the first eight minutes of play. Alex Cacas, Christian Rendino, and Christian DeJesus (x2) would also chip in goals as the game went on, and the Spartans cruised to a 8-2 victory. This game was big. SJSU proved that, despite only being ranked one spot ahead of LMU, they were in a different class.
Sunday was getaway day for the Spartans but they almost seemed to leave a bit too early. San Jose State had a 6-3 lead against College of the Canyons heading into the third period, but couldn't hold it. The Cougars slowly worked their way back in to the game, and took advantage of a five-minute major poweplay late in the third to tie it up. The ice was slanted in COC's favor for almost the entire overtime period. The teams were 9 seconds away from officially earning a tie, until a puck deflected off of Sam Cimino into the Cougars net off of a broken play. The Spartans not only gained the win, but Cimino joined the 200 point club, just days after line-mate Kyle Dutra.
The weekend sweep is huge for San Jose State. Wins over quality opponents like #10 SDSU and #8 LMU may give them enough of a boost to switch places with #5 Utah in the next ranking period. But before the new rankings are released, the Spartans have a crucial four-game weekend at home at Sharks Ice:
-On Thursday, the Spartans face off with #14 Oregon Ducks at 6:45 pm. The Spartans should be expected to get a solid win in this game, but Oregon could surprise if SJSU looks past them.
-Friday night brings a rematch with #10 San Diego State at 7:30 pm.. Last weekend literally came down to the final seconds, will San Diego State get some revenge in the Spartans' barn?
-The biggest game of the weekend, though, is on Saturday versus #1 Utah State. The puck drops at 7:00 pm. These teams played earlier in the season, and Utah State beat up on SJSU 6-2. So far, that's the only game where the Spartans looked outmatched. A win this time around could solidify a nice jump in the rankings for SJSU.
-Finally, the long showcase comes to an end on Sunday at 3:15 against #15 UNLV. Don't be surprised to see the Spartans face a Rebels team with a short bench. They have a history of sending some players home early on trips. They also have a history of dropping the gloves... a lot. Although they appear to be mellower than in years past, the Spartans showed they aren't afraid to goon it up a bit against Colorado State. It's not a guarantee, but this could get ugly.
All four games in the showcase (as well as four other games that don't feature the Spartans) will be streamed by Black Dog Enterprises. In addition, the Friday and Sunday games will be broadcast on 90.5 fm KSJS San Jose. This weekend will be the last big test for SJSU before the playoffs. Hopefully the Spartans can keep grabbing some dramatic wins as they continue down the stretch.
Fight on, Spartans!