Spartan Crash Course: Hitting the road after an important win

Redemption. That was the key word for the Spartans. In the first game of the regional playoffs last season, the Utah Skatin' Utes eliminated SJSU 6-3. This time around, San Jose State came out on top with a hard-fought 4-3 victory on Friday night.

It was only the second game of the year for the San Jose State Spartans when the 3-1 Skatin' Utes came in to Sharks Ice on Friday night. The Spartans would get the 4-3 win fueled by 4 power play goals, and a desire to take down the team that eliminated them in the ACHA West Regional tournament about six months ago.

"We wanted vengeance on those guys," said Spartan defenseman Christian Rendino. Last season, the team couldn't keep pace with the Utes in the second, and it cost them. "We forgot that hunger, it seemed," said Steven Stichler last year.

Friday night, however, the Spartans did not have that problem. The two teams were very evenly matched through a scoreless first period. For a moment, it looked like Utah was going to take advantage of the Spartans in the second period again after taking a 2-0 lead.

But as time was winding down in the second, the Utes made a few crucial mistakes. They first got caught on a penalty for too many men, and made the problem worse with a boarding major on Sam Cimino. That gave the Spartans a 5-on-3 power play for the last 1:09 of the period.

Kyle Dutra scored before the end of the period to bring the Spartans within one heading to the dressing room. "The powerplay's been clicking," said Rendino. "As soon as we got together and figured it out in practice, I don't think there was any looking back."

SJSU took that momentum into the third period with three more unanswered powerplay goals. Dutra and Rendino both had solid goals to put the Spartans ahead. But the play of the game had to come from Spartan Neil Schumaker.

Schumaker, a stay-at-home type defenseman, was playing his 100th game with the team. His partner Sal Barranco had already jumped up into the play, and set the stage for Schumaker. "I just stepped in. I had a clear lane all the way through," said Schumaker. "Sal passed a perfect pass across and all I had to do was tap it in."

It was only Schumaker's second career goal with the team, and it couldn't have come at a better time. SJSU needed that insurance goal, because Utah's Ben Seastrand answered back with a goal just nine seconds later. The Spartans were able to shut it down for the rest of the night and take the 4-3 win.

The Spartans outshot Utah 49-42, but both goaltenders looked great between the pipes. Pete Gibb played well for Utah, but Spartan Mario Retana was able to come through with some very athletic saves, with some major traffic in front.

It was a huge win for San Jose State, and they hope to take that momentum with them to Southern California with a three-game road trip starting Thursday night. The team will drive down Thursday morning for games against Cal State Fullerton, USC and Long Beach State.

Last season, the team did not look good on their first couple road trips. Winning these games early on this year is a key for SJSU if they can be near the top when the rankings come out later this year. "If we keep on playing the way we're playing, I don't see any way we're not going to win these next three games," said Schumaker.

SJSU should be expected to be the favorites in all three of the match-ups, but the games being on the road could be big. The team will get a chance to practice in Anaheim Thursday afternoon, which could be key for the team. Because of that practice time, "even though we're driving, we're not going to have the tired legs," said defenseman Alex Azevedo.

The Spartans hit the road for their first trip of the year as they head down to face some Southern California rivals for some late night games. Their first game will be Thursday night at 10:30 pm against Cal State Fullerton. Friday night at 8:30 pm, they'll have a rematch with USC, and the Spartans will finish their trip Saturday night at 9:50 pm against Long Bech State. All three games will be broadcast on 90.5 KSJS and streamed online via Black Dog Enterprises.

Fight on, Spartans!