Crash Course: Spartans season ends in the first round of the playoffs

The Spartans after a loss earlier this year. - Austin Hill

It's been a long season for the Spartans with a lot of highs and lows. But the most heartbreaking low came last Saturday in the first round of the playoffs.

The San Jose State Spartans ran out of time in the third period and their season on Saturday when they fell 3-2 to San Diego State. The game was the first round match up between the #5 Spartans and #8 Aztecs in the ACHA West Regional playoffs, held in Salt Lake City, Utah.

"I think it took us a little while to get our legs under us and moving the puck," said Spartan defenseman Salvatore Barranco. "Unforunately, we started connecting late in the third, but by that time it was too late."

It seemed like both teams took a while to get going, but by the midway point of the first period, San Diego State started taking control. A tripping penalty by Kyle Dutra late in the first period gave Aztec sniper Kevin Vaughan a chance in the slot that he ripped past Mario Retana in net for the first goal of the game. "We had to get over the adversity of the four guys that sat the first period [for disciplinary issues] and we couldn't," said Dutra, the team's captain.

The second period continued similar to the first, with both teams getting a few decent opportunities, but San Diego getting the better of them. Kevin Vaughan had another huge chance on a breakaway with about three and a half minutes left in the second, but Retana sprawled out and made the stop.

"Mario stood on his head and gave us every opportunity to win that game," said Barranco. Unfortunately, the Aztecs continued to pile up the chances and would score off the very next face-off. San Diego State was able to set-up in the offensive zone, and Eric Stelnick would blast one through with Travis Sevilla providing a screen in front of Retana. The score moved to 2-0 SDSU as the second period came to an end.

The Aztecs' Stelnick and Sevilla would combine again six minutes into the third period to give the Aztecs a commanding 3-0 lead.

Finally, that woke the Spartans up. Seniors Sam Cimino and Kyle Dutra responded with a great chance on the very next shift after that goal. A couple minutes later, Spartan Christian Rendino drew a tripping call at the blueline. On the resulting powerplay, a Rendino shot bounced off the endboards to Cimino who buried it to get the Spartans on the board with 11:31 remaining in the game.

The teams continued to trade chances, but the later it got, the more the Spartans dominated the play. The Spartans would bring the deficit back to one with 2:32 left after a goal by Nicholas Matejovsky. Christian Rendino had a nice entry into the zone and handed it to Matejovsky who wristed one in top shelf from the top of the circles.

The Spartans continued strong down the stretch, but couldn't tie it up before they ran out of time. Final score: 3-2, San Diego State. A valiant effort, but they were doomed by slow start. And that brought the Spartans' season to an end.

"We just didn't play our game," said Kyle Dutra, whose five year Spartan career came to an end with the loss. "I didn't feel like all the guys' heads were where they should have been, which made us play flat. San Diego played well and played like they wanted it more."

This was the first loss for the Spartans in the second semester of the season, who compiled a 11-0-1 record prior to the playoffs. It was actually the Aztecs who provided the only blemish, a 2-2 tie in San Jose back on January 25th. This loss leaves the Spartans with a final record of 23-8-2 on the season.

You can actually see the Spartans one final time as they'll square off with a team made up of Spartan alumni this Saturday on the south rink of Sharks Ice at San Jose. The puck drops at 7:45 pm for that game. At 6:45 pm, there will actually be an exhibition game between two SJSU Hockey alumni squads. Both games will be broadcast on Black Dog Enterprises with Jonathan Wold and Lewis Geist on the call. According to their official website, all proceeds from the weekend (broadcasts included) will help the team's general fund to try and reduce the high cost of player dues.

Last year, the alumni game actually ended unexpectedly early. Alumni Ian Fazzi checked Matejovsky into the boards during the third period, and Matejovksy's skate came up and shattered the glass. Hopefully this game isn't quite as destructive, but it should still be a good time for all involved.

One more time, I'd like to thank the Spartan players and staff for their accessibility over the course of the season. I'd also like to thank Derek (The Neutral) for giving me and the team the extra focus on the blog during the NHL lockout. Until next year...

Fight on, Spartans!

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