By: Keshia Knight, SRJC Hockey Staff Writer
The Polar Bears hosted its second annual Wine Country Collegiate Classic November 8-10 at Snoopy's Home Ice and despite a hard effort the team was winless in three games.
SRJC opened the weekend against Metropolitan State University at Denver. Impressive goaltending kept both teams off the board for 11 minutes before Metro State scored two off goalie Jacob Pavsek. Polar Bears forward Josiah Nikkel added to his team-leading point total with two goals in the second period to tie the game.
The match stayed close until Metro State scored three in the third period to take a 7-3 lead. After another goal by Nikkel and one by Chris Whitten, defenseman Alex De Vaughn put the Polar Bears within one with 16 seconds left in the game. A miraculous shot by Alexi Kulikouskiy with 2.1 seconds on the clock sent it to overtime. The game was still tied at 7 after a five-minute overtime, prompting a shootout. In the end, it was Metro State on top, 8-7 (SO 2-1).
The next day the Polar Bears took on the Bay Area Sharks. In this exhibition game between SRJC and the Junior team, three players, defenseman Andreas Rahm, Nikkel and forward David Horton sat out the game due to injuries, along with defenseman Sam Davis who received a three-game suspension following an ejection against Metro State. Without these key players, the Polar Bears could not defeat the Sharks. SRJC lost the game 10-3.
Hoping to salvage at least one game, the Polar Bears closed out the showcase against the Northern Arizona University Ice Jacks. After SRJC scored first with a goal by Spencer Wright, the Ice Jacks tied it up. As NAU added on in the second period, De Vaughn took a stick to the neck and was forced to leave the ice. Forward Jackson Joyce would also leave the game with an injury. The Polar Bears tried to keep the game close with goals by Kulikouskiy and Whitten, but at the sound of the final buzzer it was NAU 8, SRJC 4.
After this weekend's misfortunes, the Polar Bear's losing streak is now at four games. More concerning is the team's growing list of injured players. After losing forward Don Coyle in late September, several players are either nursing injuries or scrambling to fill injured spots.
"When we have eight plus guys playing hurt or not in the lineup, line pairings change, systems change and special teams changes," said Coach Tom Billeter. "When drastic changes like this occur, your team can easily be affected both mentally and performance wise."
As the team's dynamic changes, players know what has to be done in order for the team to move on in competition. Currently, the team is ranked 13th in the American Collegiate Hockey Association with a record of 5-6-1.
"The team has been staying strong and we have kept our heads up," Horton said. "Losing is part of every game. We know what we have to do and that losing this many games is not good for the outcome of our season."
SRJC will finish out the first half of the season on the road with games against Stanford University (Nov. 30), UC Berkeley (Dec. 2), UC Davis (Dec. 7) and Sacramento State University (Dec. 15). The team will keep fans updated on the status of the Dec.14 game, as the San Jose State University Division III team is no longer a club.