Lack of depth. Lack of experience.
The SRJC Hockey team’s two biggest shortcomings in the second half stifled the team on its biggest stage this season, as the Polar Bears fell in the first round of the 2017 Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament Feb. 17-19. Losing to longtime nemesis UC Davis in game one kept the Polar Bears from making PCHA history as the first team to win five-straight league titles.
Despite every confidence in the new-look Polar Bears, there’s no denying that this year’s PCHA Tournament was going to be a lot harder. The team finished the second half with a 1-6 record in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, with a 1-4 record against PCHA clubs.
As the No. 4 seed, the Polar Bears had the hardest matchup in the first round in facing No. 5 UC Davis—a team it had lost horribly to twice since the beginning of the New Year. In those two games, the Polar Bears gave up 31 goals, while scoring only six; a first in club history.
Like previous PCHA Tournaments, UC Davis’ uber-talented Captain Gordon Dickson would be one of SRJC’s toughest hurdles. Dickson is Davis’ best playmaker, aiding in the emergence of Kaz Machida and William Teeple this season.
But even with the odds stacked against them, SRJC was pretty confident heading into the weekend. Players wanted to have fun in the last bits of competition on the year, as this would be the last time most of the team would play together.
Davis struck first at 16:24, first period with a mid-zone shot that baffled SRJC goalie Matthew Colgrove. The team added four more in the period while the Polar Bears put two on the board off the sticks of Max Brownlee and Carson Riley.
Despite being down after the first 20 minutes, the three-goal deficit was the Polar Bears’ lowest point differential in a period against UC Davis in the second half. It set SRJC up for promising second period, which the team would squander.
SRJC got slapped with a weak penalty shortly after puck drop that led to a Davis power play goal. It added two more before Riley batted one in for SRJC. But that did not help much as Davis buried the Polar Bears under an eventual 11-4 victory.
For the first time in four opportunities, UC Davis knocked off SRJC in the PCHA Tournament.
“We had a game plan to try and shut them down with our first line and score with our second. Which was going really well for the most part,” said Team President Larry Hansen. “It felt like we even out chanced them throughout the whole game. Ultimately, it came down to them being better at capitalizing on our mistake then we were.”
Sadden but knowing there was no time to dwell, SRJC prepared for a consolation game at noon the next day. The Polar Bears beat UC Santa Cruz 9-7 thanks to an amazing five goal performance by Brownlee.
Brownlee would continue his dominance later that night against Stanford University. He put up four in the game early as SRJC had a 6-2 lead just 25 minutes in. But what can only be described as one of the most bizarre breakdowns in team history, the Polar Bears let Stanford tie the score. The two teams battled into the final period tied at six goals with Stanford scoring three for the eventual win.
The Polar Bears have never lost to Stanford University, something opposing players relished in as they skated off the ice. The loss was the perfect summary of an embattled second half.
Still, players seemed to be in good spirits as the weekend concluded—a testament to the new attitude and appreciation the team portrayed in the final month and a half of play.
“The second half of the season was little disenfranchising, but to spend the last weekend with the dedicated guys on this team was great,” said Alec Runge, who is transferring to a four-year university next year. “The last game was a tough loss, but playing three games in 24 hours is going to be tough on any team. We all had a great time. It was a good season.”
Losing to UC Davis crushed SRJC’s chances at becoming the first team in PCHA history to garner four-straight championship titles. The Polar Bears remain tied with College of the Canyons with four consecutive titles, and tied with UC San Diego and University of Southern California with four overall. College of the Canyons is tied for the most wins (5) with San Jose State University, who took home the win this year after having won its last PCHA championship in 1997.