Twelve members of the SRJC Hockey team are in Sioux Center, IA for the Clash in the Corn Tournament this weekend, and despite its shorten bench the team is determine to put on a show.
Playing against three American Collegiate Hockey Association Division III teams, the Polar Bears must overcome its recent woes and work together to pull off a successful weekend. Wins in these games would improve SRJC’s chance at a higher ranking, which could secure a playoff spot, if not an automatic bid to Nationals.
“We suffered three injuries during our last game against UC Davis; with injuries and lack of funds, our squad going to Iowa is going to be small, so teamwork is absolutely mandatory,” said Eric Zagacki.
SRJC will face Aurora University-Blue in the first day of competition at 1:30 p.m. CT/11:30 a.m. PT Thursday, Nov. 20. This is the first time the Polar Bears will face Aurora, who is currently unranked.
An exceptional squad, who has spent time atop the ACHA leader boards in the past, Aurora is off to a slow start with a 2-4 record. The team is coming off a 1-1 split with Northwestern University last weekend, going 2-5 (loss) and 7-5 (win) in the series. In its six games, Aurora has scored 26 goals while giving up 43. Three players lead the team in points, including Bryce Stenstrom who has scored four power play goals in five games. With SRJC having trouble keeping out of the penalty box, controlling their tempers and silencing Stenstrom is key.
“I think we have to go in there and play smart; no one can do it one their own,” said Andrew Mason. “We have a short bench, so we have to work with each other.”
On Friday, Nov. 21, the Polar Bears will play tournament host Dordt College at 7:30 p.m. CT/5:30 p.m. PT. Dordt is currently unranked with a 2-11-1-0 record. The team has been shutout four times this season, having scored 28 goals to opponents’ 91.
Like the Polar Bears, Dordt College takes many penalties. If SRJC can control those minutes, it can gain an edge over Dordt.
The last day of the Clash in the Corn will pit SRJC against the no. 1 ranked University of Arkansas at 4:30 p.m. CT/ 2:30 p.m. PT Saturday, Nov. 22. With a 13-6-1 record, Arkansas will be the Polar Bears toughest competition all weekend. An SRJC win would prove huge in rankings, but it will not come easy.
Arkansas has mostly played against DI teams this season, with only four games played against DIII opponents. Scouts say Arkansas is not the same caliber team as in recent years, but it has outscored opponents 113-61. The team has nine players in double-digit points, with four players with 10 plus goals.
The Polar Bears have slightly better numbers, including their goals for/against record (116-37), penalty kill percentage (92.3-83.3), power play goals (21-8) and shorthanded goals (9-1).
What really separates the two is the level of competition each has face this season and depth. SRJC primarily faces unranked teams, whereas Arkansas sees competition from all ACHA levels. Additionally, SRJC has a short bench for this tournament.
“Hopefully we get some goals early. And play some solid defense, and not from behind like we have been as of late,” said Matt Katicich. “We’ll have to get Dom [Jones, goalie] to stand on his head like he has been, because we’re going to need him.”
Overall, players are optimistic and excited about this tournament’s level of play.
“I’m stoked to go out there and see some new competition and try to put SRJC on the map in the ACHA, We’ve all been working hard, especially the guys who are going on the trip,” Mason said. “We are ready for that elevated competition, ready to show what we got and I think it’s going to be a fun weekend no matter what happens.”