The CSUN men’s hockey team won two of three crucial home games this past weekend.
With a 9-5 record and the regular season nearing an end, the Matadors needed at least one win to stay in the regional playoff hunt. While the official results show CSUN winning two games in an offensive explosion, they should also get credit for a significant moral victory.
On Friday, the Matadors played California State University, Sacramento. With a 6-5 record coming into the game, the Hornets looked to be the more focused and intense team throughout most of the game.
After the first period, three different Hornets had scored, giving them a 3-1 advantage. Sophomore forward Tom Lalley provided the lone Matador goal.
The Sacramento State scoring barrage continued into the second period with two early goals by Chase Turner and Malachi Mahan. The Matadors came charging back, with Lalley scoring his second goal of the night with five minutes left in the period to extend their lead to 5-2. One minute later, freshman forward Chris Gale scored on a power-play goal to close the gap to 5-3. With the offense heating up, CSUN looked to be mounting a comeback. The Hornets temporarily crushed those hopes as Mahan scored his third goal of the night with 1:27 left in the period. The Matadors had some work to do if they were going to come back from a three-goal deficit.
CSUN opened the third period determined to win the contest. It was the play of Gale that changed the pace and outcome of the game. One minute into the period, he scored his first of four unanswered goals. In the last two minutes of the game, Gale broke a 6-6 tie, lifting Northridge to victory.
CSUN head coach Sean McLynn had nothing but praise for his young player.
“[Gale] is an animal out there,” McLynn said. “He’s certainly a franchise player. He came up big.”
Saturday night was a tough challenge for the Matadors. Coming off an exciting win, they hoped to contend with powerhouse San Diego State. The Aztecs came into the game with an impressive 19-1 record and ranked among the top teams in the country.
CSUN held their own in the first period, allowing only one SDSU goal. The Aztecs scored again in the second period to make it 2-0. The only CSUN goal came on junior forward Jeffrey Park’s power-play goal with 2:04 remaining in the period.
San Diego State scored three more goals in the third period to make the final score 5-1.
Despite the loss, McLynn was proud of his team’s efforts.
“Going into the third period, we actually felt good about what we did,” McLynn said. “We played a really good first period against them and we had them a little bit on their heels and then we took the second period off. When you play a good team like that, you really can’t take breaks in the game.”
Northridge will have a chance to avenge their loss on Friday when they travel to San Diego State. McLynn says he expects a good rematch if his team can stay out of penalty trouble.
Saturday night’s loss lit a fire under the Matadors and the team started their game against Arizona State on Sunday with focus, intensity, and heavy physical play.
The first period was filled with not only fast skating and hard hits, but a Northridge scoring frenzy, thanks in large part to the frequently penalized Sun Devils. Five different Matadors scored in the opening period. Senior forward Nikita Behm started the offense at 14:20 with a goal in front of the net, followed by junior forward Jason Bobich’s power-play goal at 8:49. Three minutes later, defenseman Tom Duma scored on a power-play slap shot. In the last five minutes of the period, the Matadors got power-play goals from junior defenseman J.P. Gale, Bobich and junior forward Derek van der Wal. Junior goalie Robert Beltrami had a 6-0 shutout going into the second period.
Just like he did in the first period, Behm opened with a goal in the second at 16:54. Down 7-0, frustration started to set in with the Sun Devils. Tempers flared in the middle of the second period and it seemed to rouse the ASU offense. Freshman forward Mark Chadwick got the Devils on the board with 6:51 left in the second period.
Arizona State came out of the second intermission revitalized and energetic. They opened the third period with three unanswered goals to close the CSUN lead to 7-4. The Matadors were not as quick and aggressive as they were in the first two periods.
“We came out and played great the first period, but then we got relaxed in the third and thought we had it in the bag,” McLynn said.
Northridge ended its scoring drought at 14:02 with Behm’s third goal of the day. The Sun Devils responded three minutes later with a power-play goal by senior forward Ryan Clark. The teams then alternated on the next four goals. CSUN junior forward Josh Fields scored at 10:42, followed by ASU freshman forward Scott O’Neil to make it 9-6. Gale scored at 6:47, followed two minutes later by ASU sophomore forward Trevor Van Conant. The Sun Devils tried to make the game interesting by scoring a goal with 53 seconds left, but CSUN held on for the 10-8 victory.
“We were fortunate to come away with it,” McLynn said. “You want to win with authority and you don’t want to let a team come back with that many goals in a period. I’m not happy about that, but I’m happy with the win.”
Northridge has four games remaining in the regular season. Their next game is Friday at San Diego State University. Their next home game is February 8 vs. UCLA.