Crash Course: The stretch run begins now

The Sharks aren't the only hockey team returning to action in San Jose this month. After a month off for finals and the holidays, the San Jose State Spartans will hit the ice tonight against the College of the Canyons Cougars. But how will they respond with a new-look roster?

As the 2013 portion of the San Jose State season begins, the Spartans currently stand at 12-7-1. But that included a 1-3 road trip in Colorado to close out the first semester. Unfortunately, their poor showing meant the Spartans dropped down to #7 in the rankings for the West region of ACHA D2. They're even one spot below the University of Utah, despite defeating the Utes all three times the teams faced off.

"Holding dominance over one team like Utah is good," said general manager Andy Dickerson. "Unfortunately they had more, bigger wins, which is what has them ranked ahead of us right now."

Last semester's team was able to beat Utah, but did struggle against some of the West region's other top competition. Consistency was lacking last semester, and will be the biggest key to start the second semester. Especially if the Spartans want to cement themselves in the West's top ten and gain some momentum as they head to post-season play. That begins this weekend against the College of the Canyons Cougars.

The Cougars are a D3 team, but have proven to be competitive with D2 teams in the past. They're coming off an appearance in the D3 Nationals last season, and won the whole thing in the previous year. Last year, when the Spartans and Cougars met, SJSU swept the series in relatively close games: 7-5, 9-5, 4-2 and 4-3. This year, the Cougars don't look to be quite the same caliber they were last season, but have been hot lately and should still be a good test. Especially with the short bench the Spartans will have.

In SJSU's last game, the Spartans earned themselves six suspensions. Forward Vince Kilduff will miss the first game, along with defenseman Michael Stivers. Forwards Nicholas Matejovsky and Tyler Hutchings will miss both of the CoC games, along with netminder Justin Linn (who will be suspended an extra game after that).

Grinder Mathis Kappeler was also suspended fourteen games, but has returned home to Norway regardless. On top of those suspensions, there will be three other players that will not be returning to finish the second semester. Jake Lynch, Will Simons, and Cody Murphy will have to leave the team to focus on classes this semester.

On top of that, defenseman Salvatore Barranco will be in Canada coaching the Sharks Ice in-house team at the Silver Stick International youth hockey tournament. Altogether, that means the Spartans will be missing ten of the twety-seven players they had on their roster at the end of the last season.

With all the roster losses, "I think this second semester's going to bring a lot of adversity," said forward Sam Cimino. "We just have to keep our heads, battle through it, and work hard."

Any hope San Jose State has on making a run to Nationals starts now, makeshift line-ups or not. The potential remains there for SJSU. Cimino saw it in the third period against Colorado State, when the Spartans scored three quick goals. "We have to act like we're already pissed off," said Cimino. "If we come out hard every game like that, I think we should be good despite the players we lost."

The Spartans begin with a game tonight at 7:30 versus the College of the Canyons Cougars at Sharks Ice in San Jose. Tickets are available at the door, and streaming video will be available from Black Dog Enterprises. On Saturday, it will be game two of the series, this time at 7:00. That game will also be broadcast on 90.5 KSJS with Jess Knaster on the call.

Fight on, Spartans!