A forfeit was not the way that the SRJC Hockey Team wanted to win its second division title in two years, but after a streak of unsportsmanlike conduct Santa Clara University conceded the PCHA championship game Feb. 9, 5-3.
The Polar Bears took their season-long PCHA domination into the Division Tournament this past weekend, with a 13-0 record against their rivals. After beating Sacramento State University 17-2 on Feb. 8 to advance to the next round, it was clear from the puck drop that a win over Santa Clara would not come as easily as before.
SRJC started out slow, allowing Santa Clara a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period. Confidence was low as players left the ice for the first intermission, but it completely turned around when they came out for the next period.
“Tom [Polar Bear head coach] told us to keep it positive, keep the wheels turning,” said forward Jackson Joyce. “We were on pace to win the game and needed to believe they couldn’t skate with us.”
That pep talk was all the team needed to get back to controlling the ice. As goalie Chris Tomaszewski completed save after save, Polar Bear forward Jimmy Reed netted two back-to-back goals that changed the momentum of the game. Santa Clara stole one last goal in the period, but defensemen Sam Davis scored on a power play to end the second period at a 3-3 tie.
The third period was a mix of petty fights, miscues and power play opportunities. SRJC points leader Josiah Nikkel took a feed from defenseman Brandon Bronze to score a power play goal as the third period opened, then seconds later Nikkel forced another big penalty. The Polar Bears were not able to capitalize on that man advantage, but did on the next 5-on-4 play. From the left side of the goal, John Keshishian put one past the goalie to give SRJC the 5-3 lead they deserved.
In a matter of seconds, everything crumbled for Santa Clara. Angered over the last play, the team’s goalie confronted the referee and was ejected for abuse of an official. Tempers flared on the Santa Clara bench, with several players receiving penalties and the head coach being ejected. Without a backup goaltender, Santa Clara forfeited the last 4:30 of the game.
A hush came over the arena as no one knew what had happened at first, but soon SRJC rushed the ice and it was all smiles from there. The team accepted the PCHA trophy and division trophy (given to the team for ending the regular season as the number one seed), and then victoriously hoisted it in the air.
The celebration was short lived though, as the team anxiously awaits the ACHA Regional playoffs Feb 21-23 in Nebraska. The PCHA win was a nice sendoff into a weekend tournament that will pit the best teams in the ACHA’s Division III against each other. SRJC knows regionals won’t be easy, but it is confident it can steal two wins to advance to the national tournament in March.
“I think you could ask anyone on the team about the regional tournament and they would all say that every team in that tournament is beatable and we're in control of our own destiny,” said defenseman Steven Dempsey. “If we bring the effort, we'll be rewarded; if we don't, we'll be disappointed. But we're not focusing on other teams, we're focusing on being the best we can and taking that through this year's playoff run.”