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.
SRJC rebounded with a 15-2 victory over Stanford University Oct. 30, after losing back-to-back games against UC Davis (5-4, Oct. 23) and Santa Clara University (3-2, Oct. 24). Three Polar Bears scored their first goals of the season, including freshman forward Evan Hastings who has produced nicely since moving up to the captains line with Josiah Nikkel and Stephen Wolmarans. Veteran goaltender Jacob Pavsek and rookie Lachlan Irvine combined nicely for a 28-save effort.
That win propelled the team into its first of two Southern California road trips, facing College of the Canyons (Nov. 5) and San Diego State University (Nov. 6-7).
Alex Provost kicked off the weekend with his third goal of the season, opening the gates for the Polar Bear offense. Matt Katicich scored two goals to restart his point streak that ended with his Oct. 24 game disqualification. Those goals bring his season total to 10, with four assists.
"I'm taking it a shift at a time," said Katicich, about his production so far. "I go out there and do what the coaches tell me, play our systems and make simple passes. It's using great teammates to my advantage, and good things happen. For me, for Jo [Nikkel], for Flow [Wolmarans]; everybody's doing well."
Every player aided in the team's 8-2 victory over CoC, setting SRJC up for a tough two-game series against SDSU the next day.
"Confidence wise this win is huge. Because of the other DIII games we lost. Everybody came in, played smart, had their heads on straight, and coming out with the 'W' was exactly what we needed," Katicich said.
The team couldn't keep the momentum from the CoC game going, as it struggled against SDSU on Friday, Nov. 6.
It was evident SRJC didn't expect San Diego to play such a physical game. Play mostly stayed in the defensive zone, as SRJC skaters failed to move the puck past the neutral zone for most of the first two periods. The team gave up four goals in three minutes in the second period, with SDSU outshooting SRJC 33-20.
The team played a much better third period, robbing San Diego's Connor O'Brian of the shutout thanks to a Max Brownlee power play goal. But the damage was already done, SRJC lost 6-1.
"We need to get better at balancing emotions and staying more disciplined," said assistant coach Nick Harris. "Giving up two goals on power plays, and taking unnecessary penalties in those first two periods, was what kept us down."
He continued, "Several players stepped up throughout the game, and put us in a good place for tomorrow. We owned the third period and we are going to try building off that. We need to take it one game at a time and put everything behind us."
SRJC came in with a completely different game plan for the finale Nov. 7. Employing a dump and chase style of play and putting more pressure on SDSU's defense, the team took advantage at the 11 minute mark for a 1-0 lead. Alternate captain David Lundgren scored the power play goal with an assist from Nikkel.
SDSU tied the score halfway through the second period, but freshman forward Lane Beliveau netted himself a power play goal eight minutes later to give the Polar Bears a 2-1 lead to end the period.
Brownlee scored the eventual game-winning shot in the third, although SDSU challenged with a power play goal minutes later. But goals from Lundgren and Wolmarans to end the period sealed a 5-2 SRJC win.
Penalties were key in the game, as SDSU took nine to SRJC's five. While only two of the Polar Bears' goals came on the man advantage, SDSU went 1-9. SRJC outshot its opponents 32-26.
"I came in cold last night, gave up that goal, but I couldn't let that outcome cloud over me. Today, I felt great, from start to finish," Tomaszewski said of his 22-save outing. "My teammates getting that first goal really gave us the kick we needed. It's a huge turn around for our team; encouraging to know we can have that kind of attitude, that kind of determination, in us.
With two wins on the weekend, the Polar Bears sit at a 7-3-1 record. Despite their success at times, the lack of DIII opponents, timeliness and sporadic dedication kept them out of the ACHA spotlight.
"At times this semester we played like a playoff caliber team, but other times we struggled. Consistency is key, especially when teams are ranked via coaches polls," said head coach Blake Johnson. "I have no doubt that with our personnel, we have the ability to win out and make a run to the playoffs. It's up to the players to decide whether they really want it or not."