Photo taken by: Christina Wigs
Not even 24 hours after suffering a crippling defeat to Santa Clara University, the SRJC Hockey team bounced back Jan. 9 for a huge 4-1 victory over its former rivals to stave off a season sweep.
Behind excellent goaltending by Chris Tomaszewski, the Polar Bears broke out in the second period with goals by Josiah Nikkel, Tim Buchter and David Lundgren.
Santa Clara tied it up shortly after Nikkel's shot, but that is all Tomaszewski allowed. The veteran netminder saved 23 of 24 shots on goal in his seventh win of the season.
Despite a near epic comeback that saw back-to-back goals from points leader Josiah Nikkel and rookie Max Brownlee in the last three minutes of the third period, the SRJC Hockey team fell 6-5 to Santa Clara University Jan. 8 to open the New Year.
The team struggled at times throughout the game, scrambling to fill spots left by injured forwards Lane Beliveau and Matt Katicich.
Obvious miscommunication between line pairings slowed the Polar Bears throughout much of the first period. Despite a goal from high in the slot by defensemen Tim Buchter, they trailed 2-1 after the first 20 minutes.
SRJC pulled it together in the second period, better adjusting to the fast play and taking a short-lived lead halfway through. Santa Clara challenged once again, but goaltender Chris Tomaszewski kept it even at three to end the period.
Things started to look bleak again to open the third as Santa Clara scored three unanswered goals to take a 6-3 lead. Brownlee and Nikkel's goals shifted the momentum in SRJC's favor as the minutes ran down, but even with an extra attacker to finish out the game, the Polar Bears couldn't pull off the upset.
The team will get a second chance as SRJC hosts Santa Clara Jan. 9 at Snoopy's Home Ice. Players better understand what they need to do to get a win; part of which includes staying out of the penalty box.
The Polar Bears took nine penalties in Friday's game, but managed to only give up one late power play goal. Their penalty kill shined, while keeping most of the play in their opponent's defensive zone.
But if the Polar Bears want to avoid the weekend sweep, they must see production from their bottem lines. And freshman points leader Evan Hastings, who was silenced in the first match.
Puck drops at 8:30 p.m., and as always admission is free.
The American Collegiate Hockey Association announced the first round of Division III rankings yesterday, and despite a good showing in the last few weeks of play, the Polar Bears failed to rank in the top 15 for the first time in four years.
Not garnering a spot is a tough blow, but understandable considering SRJC is 1-2 against division teams. Most of the Polar Bears' competition have been Division II teams, which barely factors in ranking criteria. But being left out of the top 15 can't take away from the team's excellent play as of late.
Almost a month into the 2015-16 season, the SRJC Hockey team saw both the good and bad that comes with a new crop of Polar Bears. While at times it seems lack of natural defense and miscommunication could sink the ship at any time, a few freshman standouts and trusty veteran leadership have the Polar Bears confidently heading into their second month.
Kicking off the year against UC Berkeley, the team took its sixth consecutive opening night victory over Cal. Rookie forward Max Brownlee found the back of the net around the five-minute mark, his first of two in the 7-4 win.
Captain Josiah Nikkel scored his first of the year, along with two assists on the night; and sophomore Matt Katicich notched one three minutes into the third period. Freshman forward Alex Provost got in on the action in the first period, scoring on his second shift of the game thanks to a pass by Brownlee.
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.