By: Keshia Knight, SRJC Hockey Staff Writer
Winning the Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association championship earlier this year was not enough for the SRJC Hockey Team. With a new season on the horizon, the Polar Bears now have their sights set on a bigger prize: a national title.
The 2012-13 season was a melody of injured players, disheartening losses and luck-luster confidence. It wasn’t until SRJC adopted a “team first” attitude that the Polar Bears pulled off a nine-game win streak and touted league hotshot UC Davis in February’s PCHA tournament.
Looking to build on that magic, the Polar Bears will arm themselves with a couple of fresh faces as it fights for a spot on the national stage.
The club worked hard in the off-season to fill the spots of key players who transferred to four-year universities. Head coach Tom Billeter says the recruitment period was very promising and players from all over the country are expected to join the official tryout August 16-17.
Intended for serious players, the skate will take place at Snoopy’s Home Ice in Santa Rosa and put participants through a rigorous two-day audition. The tryout determines the team’s official roster and SRJC hopes there is enough talent and bodies on the ice to stack the roster. With a club of at least 30 skaters, the Polar Bears will be better suited to compete at the highest level, cover injuries and help with team costs.
While new players are expected to make a big contribution this season, it is the band of impressive returning players that will lead the Polar Bears towards the playoffs. Players suiting up for SRJC again include defensemen Blake Johnson and Marcel Delagnes, offensive powerhouses Adam Johnson and Josiah Nikkel and the quick-gloved netminder Chris Tomaszewski. For all the returning players, this season’s tryout couldn’t come fast enough.
"I'm very happy to be getting back on the ice and to see all the returning guys and meet the new incoming players,” Delagnes said.
With a bigger goal and roster, there will be a new face on the Polar Bear’s bench calling out orders. Snoopy’s Director of Hockey Operations Mike Kovanis will join Billeter and assistant coach Sean McGee this season as they foster the club in champions again. Kovanis coached youth hockey for several years as well as high school. He brings in years of recruitment experience, which will help SRJC as it continues to grow the program.
No one expects it to be an easy road to a championship this season. Each team the Polar Bears face will be trying to take down SRJC on its own path to nationals. An official schedule has yet to be announced, but the season is full of many top-tiered teams ready to challenge the club.
One highlight on the Polar Bears Schedule is the Wine Country Collegiate Classic. Hosted by SRJC, the three-day showcase will take place in early November and highlight the talents of UC Davis, College of the Canyons and the University of Northern Colorado.
These universities coming to Snoopy’s are three of the top programs in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. Each game will be a nail-biter from start to finish, but the Polar Bears are confident about each matchup.
“We can go 3-0 in our showcase. If we do that, we’ll be in a good position,” Billeter said. “Regionals is where I expect us to be. Nationals, is the goal. Over-the-top, but we have the team to do it.”
Capturing the PCHA title was a perfect ending to last season, but the Polar Bears are not going to be satisfied with just a division championship this time around. They have the talent, the right men in charge and the best fan base in collegiate hockey. With that combination, a national title is definitely in the cards.