Losing four-straight games was not what the SRJC Hockey team had in mind when it began the 2016-17 season. But after a grueling string of losses in early October that was the reality. It wasn't until back-to-back home games to close out the month did the Polar Bears right the ship and put a check in the win column.
SRJC's first road trip of the year left everyone scratching their heads after the team went winless over the three-game weekend.
The first game against new Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association opponent UC Santa Barbara had few positives—the biggest being SRJC's refusal to back down from a fight; both literally and figuratively.
we can get there.”
After being down for most of the game, SRJC rebounded with four-straight goals. Only a penalty at the end that developed into a two-on-one for UCSB’s go-ahead goal kept the Polar Bears from the comeback.
“The first game against UC Santa Barbara was tough. We really didn’t know what to expect with a team we’ve never seen before. We had trouble getting going but we eventually got our grove and started playing real SRJC hockey,” said Captain Josiah Nikkel. “We had a wear and tear on UCSB in the third period. It could have went either way.”
He continued, “Being down a few goals and then making a team-effort to tie the game with just a few minutes left put us in a good place. There’s a big take away: we realized we can come back from just about anything.”
The only thing SRJC couldn’t come back from was alternate captain David Lundgren’s barrage of penalties. He and UCSB’s Christian Okpysh each received four penalties, including ejections for fighting that came with game suspensions.
Without Lundgren for the rest of the weekend, and the absences of top forwards Lane Beliveau and Evan Hastings, SRJC entered the final two games at a huge disadvantage.
“The next two games really showed how undisciplined we were. We had a lot of penalties and couldn’t stay out of the box,” Nikkel said. “We got up on Long Beach, but the penalties were too much to kill off.”
A 9-5 loss to CSU Long Beach and a crippling 11-4 heartbreak to UCSB sealed the weekend’s fate.
The Polar Bears’ woes continued as they lost 4-1 to longtime nemesis San Jose State University Oct. 21.
Despite an amazing performance by rookie goaltender Matthew Colgrove, who saved 50 of 54 shots on goal, SRJC couldn’t overcome its first period troubles that included only having 10 players to start the game.
The problems several players communicated early on — shifted lines, lack of execution, undeveloped chemistry— seemed like distant memories the next day. In front of their boisterous fans, the Polar Bears beat SJSU 7-4.
John Keshishian led the charge with a hat trick and an assist. Four other players— Larry Hansen, Max Brownlee, Nikkel and Hastings—netted goals to go along with excellent goaltending by rookie Steven Morton.
“Every time we play San Jose, to me that is the biggest rivalry game that I get to play. It’s always one I mentally prepare harder for. It gives me an extra edge; makes me want to work harder every single shift,” said Keshishian, who has excellent career numbers against SJSU. “I know that every time I play against San Jose State it takes a lot more effort, a lot more preparation.”
The victory marked SRJC’s seventh-straight home opening night victory, and the first not coming against UC Berkeley.
SRJC kept it rolling the next weekend as it took on Santa Clara University. It was deadlocked 0-0 through the first 35 minutes. SCU stuck for a 2-0 lead with less five minutes left in the second, but Matt Katicich and Hastings didn’t let them savor it long.
Their goals to tie the score was it for the rest of the game. Brownlee was called for a minor penalty at the end of regulation that put SRJC down 4-on-3 to start a five minute overtime.
SRJC powered through SCU’s man advantage with several excellent defensive blocks. It looked like the game would end tied, but Nikkel scored off a pass from Hastings with 25.2 seconds left.
Getting those first wins was a big weight off the Polar Bears’ shoulders. It reestablished SRJC’s confidence and proved how resilient the team is. Players attribute better preparation as a factor, saying their full roster’s commitment to practices and training is the biggest difference from the start of the season to now.
The Polar Bears have no down time with a jam-packed November already here. SRJC faces four different PCHA rivals in six games, including another Southern California trip mid-month.
But with the team’s current play, players are eager to get back to business.
“It’s exciting to think about how we turned things around these past few games as we look at the schedule for the next month,” Brownlee said. “We have a lot of big games coming up—the biggest being this first game against UC Davis at home. It’d be nice to keep this momentum, this streak going and win a third game in a row. We go on the road after and it’d really push us forward. I want to win every game this month. And I know