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Photo Courtesy of Austin Hill
02/11/14 - Titans Toppled Twice, Spartans Finish 5th
By the Staff
Above: Christian Rendino is mobbed by his teammates after scoring the tying goal on Saturday off a long dump-in from center ice that snuck by CSUF goaltender Nevin Iwatsuru.

In thrilling fashion, #7 SJSU came from behind twice to defeat #6 Cal-State Fullerton on the last weekend of the regular season: 4-3 in OT on Friday and 7-5 on Saturday. It was Senior Weekend with the Spartans saying farewell to an exceptional class of players that suited up for their last home games in blue and gold. Among them were #10 Vince Kilduff, #16 Alex Azevedo, #19 Eric Jones, #40 Sam Cimino, #44 Mason Console and #96 Salvatore Barranco. They all got to go out with in the best way possible with two wins over a tough in-state rival.

This weekend series was huge in determining playoff position for the upcoming West Regional Playoff, which will be held in Flagstaff, AZ from February 22-23. The Spartans and Titans sat back-to-back in the Top 10, the Titans poised to qualify for the post-season for the first time in franchise history.

Friday night the Titans showed no ill-effects of the drive up north from Fullerton, CA as they took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on a goal from Trevor Wada at 10:32. The Spartans would tie the score in the second period when Sam Cimino notched a power play marker at 4:10, but the Titans would respond just under 2 minutes later when Chris Florentine scored at 2:15.

Florentine would head to the box with the Spartans' Brant Haddon on matching cross-checking penalties after the goal was scored and that resulted in some 4-on-4 play. At 1:46 the Titans' Sean Saligumba was given an unsportsmanlike penalty and on the ensuing 4-on-3 power play Spartan defenseman Salvatore Barranco ripped a slapper through an Ian Seidl screen past Titan goaltender Brandon Heethuis with 22 seconds left in the frame to tie it back up at 2-2.

The Titans got a 4-on-3 power play of their own early in the 3rd period and at 17:58 got a fortuitous bounce off the stick of Spartan defenseman Alex Azevedo as the point from Trevor Cigich deflected off Azevedo's stick into the upper third of the net past Spartan goaltender Mario Retana. With that, the Titans took a one goal lead for the third time in the game.

The teams traded chances in throughout the rest of the frame and it seemed like the Spartans' weekend was going to be spoiled until 2:19 left when Cimino circled the Titan cage and found a wide open Nicholas Matejovsky in the slot and #89 slapped it past Heethuis to tie the score at 3-3.

It was Matejovsky's first game back after missing the USC series last weekend due to injury and as if getting the tying goal wasn't enough he came through huge in the ensuing overtime frame. With 1:18 left in the 5-minute 4-on-4 session, Mason Console broke away on a 2-on-1 with Matejovsky. Console got the D-man to bite, flipped a saucer pass over to Nick and he one-timed it past a sliding Heethuis to complete a thrilling come-from-behind OT victory.

There was more drama to come as half of the Fullerton team walked off the ice without shaking hands in some sort of protest against the officials (penalties were 10-7 with Fullerton being penalized more often). This lack of sportsmanship kept the competitive juices flowing on Saturday night in the re-match. The Titans came out hot again, scoring 3 goals in the opening frame to take a 3-1 lead into the 1st intermission.

The only Spartan goal in the first period came off the stick of Cimino on a beautiful dangle through the defense. It was Cimino's 40th goal of the season which tied SJSU all-time leading scorer Sean Scarbrough's single-season record.

Things began to look worse in the second period when the Titans scored twice more, including once on the power play. Trevor Nielson had one of the two (and two total in the game) and Zach Henderson completed his playmaker (3 assists).

SJSU was able to hold serve though with two power play goals: the first at 14:36 on a blast from the point by Christian Rendino through a Nick Gialdini screen and the second at 2:38 on a wrister from Console that found its way around another screen from Gialdini and past Titan goaltender Nevin Iwatsuru.

That set the stage for the final frame and boy was it an exciting one. The Spartans seized the momentum early with Cimino's second goal of the game off a centering pass from Matejovsky at 17:58. The game turned at 12:43 when a seemingly harmless dump-in from center ice by Rendino skipped past Iwatsuru into the back of the net amazingly tie the game at 5-5.

Less than 2 minutes later at 10:53, Cimino blazed through the Titan defense and slipped a backhander through Iwatsuru's legs to complete his hat trick, give SJSU a 6-5 lead and send the Sharks Ice crowd into a frenzy. Cimino's hat trick goal, which gave him 42 on the season and set a new franchise single-season record, sent an already on-edge Titan bench off the handle.

Tensions had been running high all game as there had already been two ejections in the second period: one to the Titans' Florentine who ran down Matejovsky from behind into the side boards and one to SJSU's Vince Kilduff who smashed Florentine into the wall in defense of Matejovsky. 20 penalties had been called on the two teams to that point. A delayed penalty had been signaled on Saligumba for hooking Cimino when he scored and after the goal the Titans' Cody Paynter mouthed off to the officials and earned him an unsportsmanlike penalty. With his team now suddenly trailing by a goal and headed on to a 5-on-3 power play Titan Head Coach Ronnie White directed some choice words at the officials as well (mind you, this was the same crew that had done the game the night before) and earned himself an unsportsmanlike penalty. He decided he might as well get his money's worth, kept going and was ejected from the game.

Where things got really interesting was as his way off the ice White took a full rack of water bottles and flung them across the ice in frustration, spraying water all over the surface. As he sat stewing in the Titan dressing room he could probably tell things were only getting worse on the ice when at 9:57 Matejovsky finished off a beautiful backdoor pass from Barranco to extend the SJSU lead to 7-5.

Retana and the Spartan defense held the fort from there and SJSU skated away victorious again. Once again, multiple Titan players exited the ice without shaking hands. This extremely poor display of sportsmanship won't get this squad very far in this league and they'll surely be in for a rude awakening at the Regional Playoff in a couple of weeks.

The Spartans meanwhile were rewarded for their fortitude and strong play as they were bumped up two spots in the final ranking to #5 in the West. Like all of the other teams in the West, SJSU benefitted from the former #1 Arizona State-Elite squad's blunder as the use of an illegal player caused them to forfeit 22 of their 29 games and they were subsequently dropped from #1 all the way down to #16. This knocked them out of the playoff picture and moved up all of the other teams in the region an extra spot than they might have initially envisioned.

Now occupying the #5 rank, the same one they held at the end of last season, SJSU will travel to Flagstaff, AZ for the 2014 Men's Division II West Regional Playoff where they will face-off against new #8 Texas A&M. The Spartans defeated the Aggies earlier this semester 3-1 in San Jose and will look for a similar result in the single-elimination tournament in a couple of weeks.

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