Crash Course: Rebuilding on the fly

Nicholas Matejovksy (center) will be one of the key players replacing some of the production of outgoing captain Kyle Dutra (top right). - Austin Hill

Considering this is a blog full of hockey-mad fans, with many living in or around the San Jose area, it's a natural fit to take a look at another San Jose-based hockey team once in a while: the San Jose State Spartans.

At the NHL trade deadline last season, we saw General Manager Doug Wilson actively retool the San Jose Sharks roster for another playoff run. For college teams, that retooling is a fact of life that must happen every offseason - and San Jose State is no exception.

The San Jose State Spartan hockey club is back for another season of high-energy college hockey in Division 2 of the American College Hockey Association. There are more than 35 teams in the West region of ACHA D2, so you may think the Spartans would have been happy making the regional playoffs last season and finishing fifth, but you'd be wrong. Any year where the team doesn't earn a berth in the national championships feels like coming up short.

But the quest for their first national championship will not be an easy one. As with all college sports, teams have to deal with turnover every offseason. The Spartans will only be returning 17 of the 27 players that suited up in blue and gold last season.

Key losses:

  • Matt Adams, head coach
  • Kyle Dutra, captain & top-line center
  • Christian DeJesus, two-way winger
  • Neil Schumaker, shutdown defenseman
It may be hardest to replace Dutra and DeJesus, who were both experienced players who averaged over a point-per-game and were the top penalty-killing forwards. Eric Jones, SJSU team president, said it's going to take the whole group to replace what they brought to the team. "Our goal is to make it to Nationals, and our goal is to win Nationals. We can't do that if everyone doesn't give 100% effort," said Jones.

Additions:

  • Phil Hazelwood, head coach
  • Rookie forwards: Nick Gialdini, Keegan Thomson, & Keanu Deguchi
  • Rookie defenseman: Brant Haddon
  • Rookie goaltender: Nikhil Bhat
Among the players, Jones said he's been impressed with all the rookies during training camp, but is expecting very good things from freshman Keegan Thomson. "He has size, he has speed, he has great puck-handling ability," said Jones. "As soon as he gets used to the level of hockey that we're playing now, I feel like he can be a huge asset going forward for our organization."

Personally, I would also look out for junior Nick Gialdini. He's already 23 years old and has experience playing with a few of the current Spartans. I could really see him helping to replace some of the secondary offense DeJesus provided.

The biggest change is behind the bench, though. I loved the coaching staff of Matt Adams, Aaron Mullagh, and Steven Stichler, but new head coach Phil Hazelwood has already been growing on me. Hazelwood is "more of an old school coach - very hard nosed," said Jones. "It's great for a team of college students."

Just looking at how practices are run, it's obvious he's more of a disciplinarian. Hazelwood doesn't necessarily want that title on him, though.

"I'd like to think I'm a players' coach, but I'm pretty tough on the discipline," said Hazelwood. He said his teams will "really pay attention to details" and it should help them on the ice. "The boys have taken to it really good," said Hazelwood.

Not everything has changed though. Sam Cimino, Nicholas Matejovsky and Arthur Arias should combine to be one of the most dynamic and highest scoring lines in the West. The second line of Mason Console, Ian Seidl, and Johnny Germaine has the potential to see a point-per-game each as well. There's some pretty solid depth on the lower lines with energy guys like Alex Cacas and Michael Schwartz, as well as a physical presence with Vince Kilduff and Sam Shayesteh.

On defense, the Spartans still have veteran puck-mover Sal Barranco and the booming shot of Christian Rendino to go along with the defensive-minded Eric Jones, Alex Azevedo and Michael Stivers. And, if he only matches what he did last season, Mario Retana should be able to be one of the best goaltenders in the region.

We'll get our first chance to see the Spartans at home this weekend at Sharks Ice in a two-game set against College of the Canyons. The puck drops at 7:30 pm on Friday and 7:00 pm on Saturday. Tickets are available at the door. If opening night is sold-out like last year or you can't make the games, Black Dog Enterprises will stream the games with video, with 90.5 fm KSJS providing audio coverage.

After this weekend, the Spartans hit the road as they head to SoCal to play College of the Canyons (again), USC and Cal-State Northridge. Black Dog will provide coverage for every game this year. The USC game will also be on KSJS.
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