When we last left the #5 San Jose State Spartans (11-4-1), they were preparing for a trip to Utah for games against #7 Utah, #9 Weber State, and #1 Utah State. The Spartans would return home from that trip with a 1-1-1 record, but the start was something to behold.
After flying in the night before, San Jose State faced the Utah Skatin' Utes Thursday evening. The last time these teams met, the Spartans came up with a thrilling 4-3 victory in San Jose. This time, the thrill was intensified even more.
The Utes came out strong, while the Spartans struggled a bit in the first. After goals by Shaymus Bertagnolli and Chris York, SJSU found themselves trailing 2-0 in the second period. But the Spartans found their game, and started turning things around.
Sam Cimino entered the zone and threw a puck to the net with Mathis Kappeler crashing in after a long shift. "I saw Cimino got the puck and created a situation, and I thought 'Hell no, I'm not going to change now,'" said Kappeler. The defenseman was all over Cimino, and he managed to put it towards the net. Kappeler scored a beauty off a mid-air deflection to put the Spartans on the board. "Before I started school here, I got some baseball lessons from a friend. I don't know if that did the trick," joked Kappeler.
That goal was just the jolt the Spartans needed. Nicholas Matejovksy would tie up the game a few minutes later, and the 2-2 score would hold until overtime. In OT, SJSU forward Christian DeJesus was forced to take a hooking penalty to take away a scoring opportunity. Things looked bleak for the Spartans as they entered the final minute of overtime.
As DeJesus nervously watched from the box, he'd see a loose puck poked out of the SJSU defensive zone by Cody Murphy. "I saw them enter the zone and the puck was kind of bouncing on them a little bit," said Murphy. "And it went to the guy's feet. And I've always been taught that if it goes to their feet, or their back's turned to the play on the powerplay, to jump on it."
Murphy jumped and it paid off. Murphy streaked up the ice, had one man left to beat, and had a beautiful deke around him (left bumper + left on the joystick for NHL 13 fans). Another good show of stickhandling beat goaltender Pete Gibb and gave the Spartans the win. "You know, it was funny, because in the third period, I just pictured in my head me getting the game winner," said Murphy.
Here's the moment, Jonathan Wold *wink* with the call on Black Dog Enterprises:
Cody Murphy's Game Winner against Utah (via TheSaucyFlow)
This was the highlight of the road trip, if not the season. Unfortunately for SJSU, they could have used a couple highlight reel plays in the next two games.
The next night, the Spartans would blow a 3-1 lead in the third period to Weber State. Wildcat Dax Hobbs completed his hat-trick to make it 3-3, which would hold all the way through overtime. The teams would play a shootout, with Weber State winning it 2-0 (although I've been told shootouts count as ties, officially, the ACHA website currently gives SJSU an OT loss for that game.) Either way, it felt like a loss.
Coming off a game like that, the Spartans then had to face the #1 team in the West, the Utah State Aggies in front of a rabid fan base in Logan, Utah. After trailing 3-1, Mathis Kappeler stayed hot and got the Spartans back within one with just under two minutes left to play in the second period.
The Aggies then showed why they are ranked #1. Utah State would answer back immediately, taking a 4-2 lead into intermission and killing the Spartans' rally. "We kind of just let off the gas there and just lost hope," said Cody Murphy. The Aggies firmly controlled the third period, and would end up with a 6-2 final.
From my perspective, this was the first time someone really beat the Spartans. Sure, they had a few losses before, but in those games, it seemed like San Jose State beat themselves. This was probably the first time the Spartans weren't the best team playing that night. That's not what the Spartans think, though. "They are good, but that doesn't mean they're better than us," said Murphy.
Considering they were facing three top-ten teams, a 1-1-1 record is respectable, but not great. And if the Spartans want to end the first semester with any type of momentum, they'll need to step up, because they have another rough road ahead. They'll face four more ranked teams this weekend in Colorado.
The Spartans will have to adjust to the altitude pretty quick. They play #13 Denver University Thursday night after flying in that morning. "If we work out, and we've been training - doing the stuff off the ice - eating healthy, we'll be fine," said Murphy. "Us first liners and second liners are going to have to be ready to suck some wind."
Things don't get any easier the rest of the trip. The Spartans will also have to face the #7, #6, and #4 teams from the West to close it out. Not only will it be the Spartans' last games of the first semester, but it will also be the last games for Mathis Kappeler as a Spartan.
Kappeler will return home to Norway after trying a semester here in San Jose. "If I stay here, I will not be able to finish my bachelor's degree. Which I will finish when I go back home," said Kappeler. The cost of playing factors in a bit as well. Tuition costs Kappeler roughly $8000 a semester. Add in living costs and $4500 dues for the team, and that really adds up. Still, it was a tough decision. "The main reason for me staying would have been to be able to finish the season," said Kappeler. "But I had to add everything up, and had to cave in on the hockey part."
Mathis had lived in Switzerland and Norway before transferring to San Jose State. Still, he quickly fit in with the team on an off the ice. Everyone knows NHL rinks aren't as wide, but what took awhile to adapt to, is that the offensive zones are longer, he explained. He seemed to adjust pretty well, putting up 7 goals and 4 assists while playing more of a grinder-role for the Spartans.
Kappeler will remember his time with SJSU fondly. "It was an awesome experience," said Kappeler. "Great guys, good spirit." He'd like to end his time with the team on a high note on this tough road trip. "I hope that the team sticks together, as they've done in the games before, and I will focus on contributing all I've got to the team."
The Spartans hit the road again tonight at 9 pm PST when they'll face #13 Denver University from Magness Arena. From there, they'll get a rematch with #7 Utah on Friday at 8 pm, another rematch with now #6 Weber State at 4:15 pm, and will end the trip with Sunday morning game versus #4 Colorado State at 8:15 am. All games will be streamed on-line by Black Dog Enterprises.
Fight on, Spartans!