SRJC Hockey season ends with playoff loss
The SRJC Hockey team found a way to win all season, but in a life or death tournament on the road to the National Championship, the Polar Bears fell three goals short of a victory.
Set with their best players and a will to prove the team’s young program is a force to be reckoned with, the Polar Bears were primed for a victory or two in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Pacific Regional playoffs Feb. 17-18 in Nebraska.
“We were focused on this game, it was something we worked hard for all season long and it showed in the locker room,” Polar Bears goalie Jacob Fitzpatrick said. “The atmosphere was all business; we were there to play hockey.”
The team’s first match against the University of Colorado was a nail biter. Having never faced each other before, both teams struggled to put together successful power plays. But Colorado struck first with a goal past the right side of SRJC goalie Danny Roy.
With 32 seconds left in the first period, SRJC forward Errol Garcia tied the score with a shot past opposing goalie Alex Puig. John Keshishian would add a goal later in the period, and the score would stay tied at 2 until the third.
Two minutes into the third Kurt Jones found a hole in Puig’s defense, marking the first lead change of the game. Colorado immediately came back hard, but Roy fought back with a stick save. Colorado added a goal off Roy a few plays later and it seemed no matter what the Polar Bears did Colorado would not go away.
The Polar Bears shot wrist shot after wrist shot to no avail, until defenseman Bryan Vrba’s power-play goal gave SRJC a 4-3 lead. Another goal from Jones would put SRJC up by two. Immediately, Colorado called for time, giving the Polar Bears a little time to breathe before running down the clock and sealing the team’s spot in the final round the next day.
“It [the win] felt unreal. The atmosphere in the locker room after the game was crazy,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are very passionate about the sport and to take down a team as the underdog was unreal. Not one person in our locker wasn’t in a state of euphoria.”
Surviving the first do or die match, the team learned they would face Iowa State University in the Finals. Not knowing much about their opponents, the Polar Bears had to come up with a quick game strategy.
Right out the gate, both teams fought aggressively to make productive plays and capitalize on each other’s mistakes. The Iowa offense struck first to take a 1-0 lead, but the Polar Bears came right back to tie. Vrba slapped a knuckle of a shot towards Iowa goalie Scott Ismond’s glove, that deflected into the net.
The tied game would not last long as Iowa added a goal against Roy from the top of the faceoff circle, for a 2-1 lead. Tensions arose immediately after the shot, and Vrba was tossed in the penalty box for checking. Iowa would have the first power play of the game, and would continue with SRJC seemingly unmatched.
The first part of the game was a bit lackluster for the Polar Bears’ offense, but the teams momentum changed as Alex Kulikouskiy scored two goals against Iowa state: one in the second period and another a few minutes into the third.
Despite the Polar Bears’ surge of offense, the team could not recover from the five goals Roy gave up before exiting the game. But the score against the SRJC goalie was not indicative of how well Roy played; he had saved 18 of the 23 goals shot by Iowa State. The Polar Bears would not give up any more goals for the remainder of the game as a fresh Fitzpatrick came in and saved all 16 shots against him.
As the seconds wound down on the clock, the Polar Bears slowly watched their chance of heading to the ACHA National Championship fade away.
“All in all, we tried,” forward Cam Davis said. ” We put up a really good fight, but the bounces just didn’t go our way.”
Even though the loss to Iowa meant a seasons end, the Polar Bears could not be more proud of their 2011-12 success and look forward to getting back on the ice next year.
“I can’t even explain how proud I am of our team this year. We had many ups and downs throughout the season and to go as far as we did is amazing,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m sure that our team will be just as strong or even stronger next season and now that we have regional tournament experience who knows what could happen.”
The Polar Bears will play an alumni game at 6 p.m. March 31 at Snoopy’s Home Ice in Santa Rosa. The game will include many of the Polar Bear players including John Hutton, the all-time leading points scorer for the current roster, head coach Tom Billieter and all-time leading alumni points scorer Zach Brown.
For more information on the game and the hockey team, visit www.santarosahockey.com