When opening night goaltender Nikhil Bhat was injured seconds into the third period of the first game of the year, their normal starter Mario Retana stepped in and shutout the Cougars in the third. He would shut them out again when he started against COC on Saturday, and yet again on Thursday down in Valencia.
Altogether, Retana would string together seven straight periods of shutout hockey to start the season against the Cougars. "I wasn't sure how this season was going to begin, or if I was even going to compete at all this season," said Retana." I had two offseason injuries that I wasn't sure how my body would handle." But after this start, he's feeling really good.
What's the secret to his early-season success? Unlike the stereotypical college kid, Retana stepped away from drinking any alcohol while going through his preparation for the year. "I decided I was going to detox my body from alcohol," said Retana. "I feel that my mind is clearer, and my off-ice mindset is more focused."
It's hard to argue with the results. On the season, Retana is 4-0 with a 1.20 GAA and a .957 SV%.
The hot start has helped push the netminder into the SJSU record books. Retana became the fastest goaltender to tally 20 career wins - doing so in his first 29 games played.
"I didn't know that," said Retana. He seemed humbled as he credited the long lineage of great Spartan goaltenders, from Eric Lahrs (who holds the SJSU records for wins and shutouts) to Ryan Lowe (who had a brief stint with the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies).
But it's more than just goaltending that's helped the Spartans to their 5-0 start. The defense has started to play into Spartan Head Coach Phil Hazelwood's systems, and the forwards have found scoring up and down the lineup.
New top-line center Nicholas Matejovsky has seemed to successfully adapted his game this season. Matejovsky, who usually leads the team in penalty minutes, finds himself trailing sniper Sam Cimino in that category. "I'm fine with that," said Matejovsky. "If he wants to play tougher, he can play tougher. I'll take his point totals any year of my life."
Right now, it seems to be working as Matejovsky leads the team with 10 points in their first five games, including a team-leading 7 assists. He said it's been easy working with the top line of Cimino and Alex Cacas. "That's why I have the points - these guys are able to put it in the net," said Matejovsky.
Last year, he was able to crack the point-per-game threshold. With this improved playmaking ability, the future looks bright for the Spartans top line, along with the rest of the team.
But with the first ACHA rankings coming out after this weekend, don't expect SJSU to be near the top just yet. While they did defeat USC and Cal State Northridge, the games weren't the convincing wins you'd expect from a top ten team in the ACHA D2 West.
With a lack of dominant victories or elite opponents, Matejovsky said he didn't necessarily expect SJSU to even crack the top ten yet, but believes they do belong there. "I think when it comes to the game where we play someone really good, we're going to show our true colors and step up," said Matejovsky.
The Long Beach State 49ers come to town for games on Friday and Saturday. While the 49ers have struggled this year with a 1-6-1 record, they have given the Spartans a run for their money in previous seasons. "I think we're just going to play our game," said Matejovsky. He says they need to keep up their physical, in-your-face style while trying to match the speed he expects from Long Beach.
The puck drops on Friday at 7:30 pm, while Saturday's game starts at 7:00 pm - right after SJSU's homecoming football game. Tickets are available at the door of Sharks Ice at San Jose. Both games will also be broadcast on 90.5 fm KSJS and online with video by Black Dog Enterprises.