Crash Course: Spartans return from Boston after finishing 11th nationally

The Spartans paid tribute to the victims of last year's attack in Boston by wearing 'Boston Strong' shirts before their games. - Jon Wold

The San Jose State Spartans hockey team went 1-2 last weekend through pool play at the ACHA Division II National Championship Tournament in Marlborough, Mass. Despite not having the offensive firepower as many of the other teams in the tournament, solid defensive play and strong goaltending helped the Spartans to an 11th place finish in a league of roughly 200 teams.

The Spartans opened pool play against the #1 seed out of the Northeast region, William Paterson University. The Pioneers described themselves as a team that was fast and physical - a pretty basic description, but that's exactly how they played. All game long, WPU seemed to win the vast majority of the one-on-one battles - whether it was on a race to a loose puck, or a battle along the boards. From my view, it might have been the most one-sided game I've seen SJSU play this year. Despite SJSU scoring first, and goaltender Mario Retana's best efforts, the Spartans would fall 4-1.

An unfortunate side-effect of WPU's physical play was an injury to Spartan defenseman Neil Schumaker. Schumaker took a big check into the boards right in front of the Pioneers' bench. Could it have been called a boarding? Possibly. But the referees were letting both teams play. Which is more than I can say about SJSU's next game.

The Retrievers of the University of Maryland - Baltimore County were the Spartans opponent on day two. Coming out of the gates, SJSU looked much improved from the day before. Play seemed to be very even, with the Spartans once again scoring first before falling behind 2-1 after one period of play. As play continued, it was evident the Spartans were really missing their absent blueliners: the aforementioned Schumaker, as well as Christian Rendino - who was out with food poisoning from the night before. UMBC took advantage of this and made adjustments to the Spartans' system at intermission. They came back with two early goals in the second to take a 4-1 lead.

And then things got out of hand.

Penalties finished 13-2 against the Spartans, including 3 of those being called 5 minute majors. Now, the Spartans are no sweethearts, they deserved most, if not all, of those penalties. Calling all of them majors instead of minors, though, was questionable at best - especially on Johnny Germaine's "Fighting" major in the third period. That penalty carried a disqualification to keep him out of what would have been his final game as a Spartan.

SJSU, meanwhile, earned a grand total of 13 seconds of powerplay time. There was no way they could fight back against that deficit while being shorthanded for the latter half of the game, and they'd fall by the final score of 5-1. This dropped them to 0-2 in pool play and officially eliminated them from possibly moving on to the semi-finals.

Heading into game three, all the Spartans had left to play for was pride - and the chance to play spoiler for an Illinois State team that could still possibly make it to the semi-finals. But the Redbirds would have to win big if they even wanted a chance. And the Spartans played that spoiler role perfectly. Defensively, SJSU stuck to the neutral zone trap all game long. When Illinois State tried to force it through, it led to repeated odd-man rushes for the Spartans. And a huge lead. The Spartans led 3-0 after one, and would end up taking game three 7-3.

It's unfortunate that this Spartan team was not able to advance to the semi-finals, but a big win on day three certainly helped raise the spirits of the team. And it was a good way to say goodbye to the seniors who were playing their final game in their competitive hockey careers.

  • With 5 points in the tournament, Sam Cimino finished with 74 points total for the year. That ties the single-season record for SJSU.
  • Prior to the third game of the tournament, Spartan netminder Mario Retana found out his grandmother passed away. Our thoughts and prayers are still with him and his family.
  • Congratulations to the University of New Hampshire, who defeated Florida Gulf Coast University in the final game to win their first national championship last weekend.
  • Due to the various tiebreakers, SJSU's 1-2 record through pool play meant they finished 11th overall in the country. Not too shabby for first-year head coach Phil Hazelwood and the defensive system he put in place. It took a while for some of the players to completely buy in, but once they did, it was clear this was a much different team.

That's a wrap for the 2013-2014 San Jose State Spartan season. I'd like to thank all the Spartan players, coaches, and staff for their accessibility this season. I'd also like to thank Derek (The Neutral) for continuing to provide an outlet for this coverage, as well as all of the readers who followed along this season. Until next season...

Fight on, Spartans!

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