|Above: SJSU celebrates Mason Console's first period goal vs. NAU on Friday. The Spartans knocked off the Ice Jacks 7-5 and put themselves in a great position to move up in the polls when the next set of rankings are released after this coming weekend's play.
It was a weekend of ups and downs for the #9 Spartans as they stunned #2 NAU on Friday night with a 7-5 win to open the showcase. On Saturday SJSU amassed a 4-1 lead vs. #6 SDSU, but penalties and persistent play by the Aztecs helped them stay in the game long enough to force overtime and eventually win it 5-4. A weary Spartan squad rebounded on Sunday with a 4-0 shutout victory over Oregon to close out the showcase.
The biggest game of the weekend for the host club was the first one as they faced a team ranked 7 spots above them in the opening coaches' poll. The visiting Ice Jacks would prove to be great bookenders of periods as they scored the first goal in each of the three periods played and scored the last goal in each of the first two periods. Nathan Kundla led the way for NAU with a goal and 2 assists while Connor Sperry and Zack Vachris added a goal and an assist each.
The Spartans dominated the middle portions of each period though and showed a knack for responding to NAU goals when needed. The team's top scorers showed up in a big way as Sam Cimino and Nicholas Matejovsky each recorded a goal and 3 assists while linemate Alex Cacas netted his 8th goal of the season.
The difference in the game though was secondary scoring as the Spartans got some much needed offensive output from somewhere other than their top 2 units. Rookie Nick Gialdini put the Spartans ahead 4-3 in the middle of the second period with a power play goal on a rebound from a Michael Stivers point shot. Three minutes later John Germaine picked the pocket of an Ice Jack defender and snapped a wrister past the glove of NAU goaltender James Korte to give SJSU a 5-3 lead.
The lead evaporated with NAU's second power play goal of the night with less than a minute left in the second period and a Dillon Butenhoff goal at 12:22 of the third period. Mario Retana did not have his best night in net for the Spartans as he compiled 32 saves but was caught out of position after a few odd bounces off defenders and the end boards. That wasn't the case on Butenhoff's tying goal as he got caught on the ice flopping around like a fish out of water after a scramble in front and was helpless to stop the rising wrist shot into the upper half of the net.
Thankfully for Retana one of his top D-men stepped up at the other end of the ice a mere 15 seconds after Butenhoff's tying goal as a blocked slap shot on a rush by Ian Seidl was corraled by Germaine. As Johnny circled toward the blue line he spotted "Wheezy" sneaking in from his weak side point position and ladeled a perfect pass to him that he on-timed past Korte to quickly steal the momentum back from a re-energized NAU squad. The 6-5 lead would hold up as Cimino added an empty-netter with 55 seconds left to seal the shocking upset victory for the Spartans.
One of the keys to the Spartan victory on Friday night was discipline as they only took 10 penalty minutes during the entire contest. Despite only taking the 5 minor penalties the team's penalty kill was not in its finest form, as has been the case throughout the season. At the end of the weekend's play the SJSU penalty kill would sit at 78%, which is 2-7 percentage points lower than the team would like to see it.
The poor penalty kill and a lack of discipline would prove to be deciding factors in Saturday night's contest as SJSU took to the ice against their bitter in-state rival San Diego State. These factors would not be apparent early though as the #6 Aztecs were coming off a narrow win over the unranked Oregon Ducks 5-4 on Friday night and put themselves behind the 8-ball 75 seconds into the game when Matt Bouchard was ejected for Boarding SJSU defenseman Alex Azevedo. Azzy was OK and the Spartans pounced on the early opportunity with the man advantage, striking twice in a span of 20 seconds.
At 16:10 Mason Console opened the scoring for the second straight night as he capitalized on a turnover in the middle of the Aztec zone and ripped a wrist shot past the glove of Aztec goaltender Connor O'Brien. It was one O'Brien probably wanted back and he might have still been thinking about it when Cimino got a backdoor pass 20 seconds later and whacked it into a vacant 4x6 space to quickly make it 2-0 SJSU.
Cimino continued his torrid scoring pace to start the season at 8:52 when he picked up a rebound off a diving shot attempt by Cacas that came free in the low slot. O'Brien had also taking a diving stab at the puck with Cacas and was out of position. Cimino grabbed the puck with his back to the net and did a 180 while whipping the puck on the ice to catch O'Brien before he could get back.
Just like that the Spartans were out front 3-0. Then the Spartan discipline that was so solid the night before began to fade. Matejovsky took a Holding penalty 7 seconds into another SJSU power play to negate that chance. Eric Jones took a Boarding penalty a minute later to compound the problem but SJSU goaltender Bryan Toma stood tall to keep his slate clean. A Too Many Men penalty with 1:49 left in the period though led to a backbreaking power play goal for SDSU's Cameron Davis to get them on the board with only 18 seconds left in the period.
This occurrence would repeat itself at the end of the second period when Azevedo took an Elbowing penalty at 1:10 and then Console earned an Unsportsmanlike penalty for voicing his displeasure with the call on Azzy. SDSU power play late in the period again equaled SDSU goal as this time Conor Pope scored with only 25 seconds left.
It should be noted that the officials this weekend were seemingly less tolerant of talk back and rough play from the teams as unsportsmanlike minors, 10-minute misconducts, and game ejections (6 of them) were handed out like candy. This fact would hurt the Spartans multiple times over the weekend and on Saturday they would lose key forward Matejovsky for 10 minutes at 18:02 of the third period for arguing with an official after Rendino was sent off for 2 minutes for Roughing.
The Spartans were at that point still in good position though as they held a 2-goal lead thanks to an Ian Seidl goal midway through the second period that had given them a 3-goal margin until Pope's late second period power play goal. That all changed at 17:45, yes 17 seconds after Rendino and Matejovsky were sent to the sin bin, as SDSU captain Eric Stelnick notched SDSU's third power play goal of the game to bring the Aztecs within one for the first time in the contest.
Stelnick would take matters into his own hands at 11:46 as he took a head-man pass from an SDSU defender, split through the Spartan defense and went in on a breakaway with Toma. He muffed a deke attempt and went crashing into Toma's pads. As he lay there in the crease with Spartan defenders closing on him, he was somehow able to jam away at Toma's and poke the puck over the goal line to the satisfaction of the referee who began pointing wildly at the back of the net like a mad-man. The Spartans were incensed and did not get much of an explanation as the official bolted from the zone to the safety of the referee's crease at center ice. Despite SJSU's protests, the goal stood and the teams were incredibly tied at 4-4.
The teams would battle to the end of regulation with SJSU receiving 2 power play opportunities in the final 5 minutes, but they couldn't capitalize on them and the teams went into sudden death OT. At 4:01 of the extra time (just under a minute in) the Aztecs' Stelnick seemed to be the hero as he jumped on a gigantic gaffe by Toma who had come out to the hash marks to cover up a dump-in that had come trickling in on him, but missed with his glove hand and unbeknownst to him left the puck sitting naked to his right. Stelnick slapped it into the cage and began celebrating, but to his and the entire visiting team's dismay was told that it wouldn't count as the official had already blown his whistle thinking the puck had been covered.
The Spartans caught a huge break here as the game should have been over. The Hockey Gods would smile upon the Aztecs though as less than a minute later Alex Cambas walked the blue line and fired a shot-pass to an uncovered Travis Sevilla who had snuck out of the left-hand corner all alone. Sevilla tipped the pass by Toma and officially captured the victory for the Aztecs.
It was a heartbreaking loss for SJSU and an especially disappointing one in the way that it had been squandered. Toma made 31 saves on the night and picked up the loss for SJSU, knocking his record down to 1-2-0 on the season. Cimino and Matejovsky led all Spartan scorers again with 2 points each.
Alas, there was nothing the Spartans could do but move forward to Sunday and their showcase-closing match-up with the unranked Oregon Ducks. The Ducks had been thrashed the previous afternoon in Fremont by an NAU squad that was certainly upset with their play against SJSU on Friday night. 9-0 was the final score there.
At the end of a long weekend of play, both the Spartans and the Ducks looked to be dragging heavily. It was a sloppy game all the way around and was scoreless through 2 periods. To make matters worse for the home team, Matejovsky was ejected from the game for Boarding with 2 minutes left in the first period. Luckily he was just awarded a game misconduct which means he'll be eligible for the first game of the team's road trip to Utah this coming weekend.
The loss of the playmaking power center in Matejovsky forced Head Coach Phil Hazelwood to have to shuffle the deck on his line sheet. The results paid off in the 3rd period as Mason Console stepped up in a huge way as he factored into every Spartan goal in the frame. He once again opening the scoring for SJSU with an off-balance wrister that beat Duck goaltender Danny Cockriel blocker side and then added assists on each of the Spartans' final three goals.
At 14:35 Console helped Cimino usher the puck up the ice for a streaking Salvatore Barranco who beat Cockriel on a breakaway to give SJSU a 2-0 lead. Console then recorded both of the primary assists on Rendino's 4th and 5th goals of the season to give SJSU a healthy 4-goal cushion that they maintained to the final buzzer.
Lost in all the offensive third period heroics was a return to form for "Super Mario" Retana who allowed fewer than 3 goals for the first time since his first three games of the season. It's seemingly been feast or famine for him in that regard, but it was a plate of meats and cheeses for the King of the Land on Sunday as he made 26 saves to record his 3rd shutout of the season and improve his record to a perfect 8-0-0.
SJSU heads to Utah this weekend for a crucial 4-game roadie with games against #3 Utah, BYU, #4 Utah State, and #5 Weber State. Check out the weekend preview story for more info about the trip and how you can catch all the action live on Black Dog Enterprises.