|Hundreds of Utah State Aggies fans watched with their mouths agape. Their Aggies, the top ranked team at the ACHA D2 West Regional Tournament, were going to sudden death overtime against a team they didn't even expect to be here.
Fighting to extend his Spartan career, senior goaltender Mario Retana was unreal. He'd face 112 shots on the weekend, and would stop 109 of them. That's a .973 save percentage. Despite only playing in two games, it's hard to argue Retana wasn't the MVP of the weekend.
It started on Friday with a rematch against the #10 Montana Tech Orediggers. The Diggers had taken two games against the Spartans just two weeks earlier up in Butte. This time, on neutral ice, the Spartans proved they deserved their spot at Regionals.
After a scoreless first, the Spartans got up on the board in the second thanks to an odd-man rush. Johnny Germaine raced towards the net, had pressure on him, but dropped a pass behind to his back to the trailing Christian Rendino. Rendino buried the goal while getting tripped up and flew into the corner boards Bobby Orr-style.
Alex Cacas would add a huge insurance goal in the third, showing off his hands up close to the net. Tim Frederickson and Rendino would pick up the assists. The rest of the period, all the Spartans bought in and blocked a flurry of shots by the Diggers. The Spartans defense was too strong, and they took the game 2-0. Mario Retana earned the shutout with 46 saves, his eighth of his Spartan career to set the school career record.
Up next for the Spartans was the toughest test possible: the highest ranked team - the #3 Utah State Aggies, on the Aggies' home ice. And SJSU was far from full strength.
Already without Spencer Archer, the Spartans lost another forward in the first game after Keanu Deguchi had been injured after a high hit that went uncalled. Defenseman Tim Frederickson was sent back to the hotel with flu-like symtpoms, while Cory Semmelmayer and Eddie Berlin fought through lesser symptoms. Defenseman Michael Wilson was banged up from the Montana Tech game, and would be forced to sit after only one period against Utah State.
Despite the injuries, the Spartans shocked the city of Logan by taking a 1-0 lead in the first period. On the rush, Christian Rendino ripped a shot that missed wide of the net. The puck bounced off the glass and right to Romeo Sandoval who was crashing backdoor.
Utah State fought back in the second period, and scored two goals in quick succession - both on breakdowns right in front of the net in the low slot. Undeterred, the Spartans kept holding strong into the third period. On what appeared to be a routine point-shot from Schuyler Krawczuk, the puck rolled up and out of the Aggie netminder's glove into the back of the net. The Spartans forced overtime to everyone's amazement.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, running two lines, two pairs for two games in two days at altitude completely wore down the team. They gutted out 7 more minutes in OT before Utah State finally found got another puck behind Retana. Retana stopped 63 of 66 shots on the night, but Utah State took the victory 3-2, and would eventually clinch a spot at Nationals the next day, along with Arizona State Maroon.
Although they didn't earn a trip to Nationals, no one could fault the Spartans' effort with one of the gutsiest performances you'll ever see. They truly earned the Spartan nickname.