For the third straight year the SRJC Hockey team is returning from the Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament as champions, and for the third straight year the win couldn’t be sweeter.
After taking down San Jose State University’s Division III squad 9-1 in the tournament’s first round Feb. 14, SRJC faced rival UC Davis in the championship game the next day. On paper, UC Davis looked better than the Polar Bears, garnering the league’s No. 1 seed, hosting the top two scorers and taking the teams’ season series 2-1. But players were confident they could handle whatever was thrown at them.
All eyes are on the SRJC Hockey team this weekend, as it fights to bring home its third straight league championship title in the annual Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament.
Held Feb. 14-15 in South Lake Tahoe, the top four PCHA teams—UC Davis, SRJC, San Jose State University and San Francisco State University— will go head-to-head in this year’s league playoffs.
UC Davis, the No. 1 seed, will take on first-year tournament participants San Francisco State University, in game one at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14.
The 2014-15 regular season came to a close Feb. 5-6, with the Polar Bears losing to one San Jose State University team a day before crushing another.
Players were confident as they took the ice against SJSU’s Division II team Feb. 5. The team better understood SJSU’s game strategy and knew what to expect after facing the team twice already this season.
SRJC’s games to end January couldn’t have been different from each other. While one showcased the team’s usual PCHA dominance, the other revealed weaknesses that could prevent SRJC from claiming its third straight Championship title.
The Polar Bears went 1-1 last weekend, suffering an 8-5 loss to UC Davis Jan. 30 before dispensing another double-digit beat down to SFSU Jan. 31.
Focusing on overall team play instead of trying to match the egos of Davis’ top skaters, SRJC had the hot hand to start the game. UC Davis committed four consecutive penalties in the period, and the Polar Bears scored twice on the power play for a 2-0 lead.
But it unraveled three minutes into the second, as UC Davis trimmed the lead to one. Matt Katicich whacked in an unassisted shot before Davis broke out three straight goals to end the period in a 4-4 tie.
“We just sat back and didn't keep hounding them, and Davis took advantage of that,” said Niklis Nisja.
Despite Blake Johnson netting a power play goal at 11:58, UC Davis tacked on four goals in the third to seal the win.
It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong. SRJC controlled the ice in the first period, keeping play mostly in the offensive zone. Four goals came on the man advantage, compared to Davis’ two. But the Polar Bears were outshot 40-34; not surprising given the surplus of shots not on net. SRJC also turned over the puck five times in the second, including two failed drop passes that directly led to goals.
Some players said the pressure caused them to overthink.
“What really led to our loss was ultimately ourselves,” said Colin Ridenour. “After Davis scored a couple quick goals we started to unravel. Going into the third period we weren't capitalizing on our chances. It was ultimately left to the team that made less mistakes and that was Davis.”
The loss sealed SRJC’s spot as the No. 2 PCHA team in the regular season. But the team will get one last chance to prove it’s the league’s best— in February’s PCHA Tournament.
“Would it have been nice to finish first? Yeah, but at the same time standings doesn't win a championship,” Nisja said. “If anything it's to our advantage to be the somewhat underdog because we play better like that.”
The next day the Polar Bears boosted their confidence with an 18-4 win over SFSU.
Given SRJC’s prowess over the second-year club, several bench players got the opportunity to flaunt their skills. With the exception of Travis LaBrucherie, the starting line consisted of mostly freshman—Ryan Ellis, Patrick Parnell, Nisja, Ridenour and goalie Miles Kellam.
Stephen Wolmarans opened the floodgates at 15:50 in the first period. SRJC added five more thanks to Katicich, Parnell, Eric Zagacki, David Lundgren and another from Wolmarans. The Polar Bears then scored eight in the second and four to finish the game.
Lundgren netted himself a hat trick, as did Wolmarans and Nikkel. The game’s starters had a good night: Ellis (goal), Parnell (two goals), Nisja (assist), Ridenour (four assists) and Kellam (win, saved 20-24).
“From start to finish it was just awesome. Getting to play every period, every second, knowing it was just me in net. I felt good out there,” Kellam said. “I’ve been waiting for a start all season, and at the beginning I was nervous, but then I warmed up and I was ready for it.”
Several players were happy with the outcome, despite not facing the most challenging of teams.
“It's always good to get a solid win after a disappointing loss. It puts some good vibes out going into the coming week in practice and gives us a good boost before our big weekend against the always challenging DII San Jose team,” Ridenour said.
SRJC will face both San Jose State University teams for its final regular season games. The team will play the Division II squad Feb. 6 in San Jose, then the Division III team at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at Snoopy’s Home Ice.