More than 130 people packed the Valley Ice Center in Panorama City on Friday to watch the CSUN men’s hockey team close its regular season with a 4-1 victory over rival UCLA. The crowd, which set a season-high attendance record, was animated from the start as Northridge delivered hard hits and tough defense.
CSUN (12-7-0) had its first defensive test six minutes into the game. At 14:16, freshman forward Chris Gale was called for a check from behind, and less than one minute later, senior forward Nikita Behm was sent to the penalty box for holding, setting up a 5-on-3 for the visiting Bruins (8-17-0). The Matadors, led by junior goalie Rob Beltrami, were able to kill the penalties and keep UCLA off the scoreboard.
“Our strategy was to play smart, play tight box, and get the puck out,” said CSUN head coach Sean McLynn.
Northridge traded a little defense for some offense midway through the first period. At 11:51, Jose Avilla broke the scoreless tie with a slap- shot goal off the faceoff. Sophomore forward Tom Lalley was credited with the assist. The period ended with the two teams trading penalties. At 5:56, UCLA was called for cross-checking and one minute later, Northridge was penalized for tripping. CSUN went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.
The second period opened with more heavy hitting and high-quality defense. UCLA had two opportunities to score early. Four minutes into the period, Chris Gale was sent to the box for his second penalty of the night on an interference call and at 12:56, junior forward Rory Lamb was called for roughing. Again, the Matadors protected the goal and UCLA was unable to capitalize on the power plays.
The Bruins finally got on the scoreboard at 9:40 with a goal by senior forward Jefferson Sanka. As the period started winding down, frustration settled in for the visitors. At 3:02, Bruin junior forward Alex Horowitz was called for roughing, and moments later, senior defenseman Aaron Munoz was penalized for hooking. CSUN was able to take advantage of UCLA’s mental mistakes. At 1:16, Chris Gale scored on a power-play goal to give the Matadors a 2-1 advantage. Junior defenseman J.P. Gale recorded the assist.
With less than a minute to play in the period, UCLA was called again for hooking, but it was the next play that roused the Bruins’ bench. UCLA was on a breakaway with seconds left in the period. A goal would tie the game at two. J.P. Gale was beat on the play and had no option but to use his stick to break up the scoring opportunity. The referee, with a clear view of the play, did not call a penalty. The UCLA bench, led by head coach Michael Kelly erupted in displeasure. After the buzzer sounded, Kelly continued yelling at the referees. Northridge was surprised with the no call.
“J.P. actually took a penalty from my vantage point,” said CSUN assistant head coach Steve Gale. “It was very clearly an interference or a hooking, or even a penalty shot. That is one I think we got away with.”
The third period opened where the prior two had left off: heavy hits and flared tempers. Nikita Behm was called for his second penalty of the night, this time for roughing, followed by J.P. Gale going to the box for tripping. At 10:56, Chris Gale scored his second goal of the night, with an assist by junior forward Jason Bobich, to give the Matadors a 3-1 lead. Northridge was penalized four more times in the period. Even Beltrami got into a shoving match late in the game and was called for interference.
“We have a rivalry with these guys,” Beltrami said. “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying, and if you get caught, you’re not trying hard enough.”
With 1:04 left in the game, Gale and Bobich hooked up again. Gale scored for the third time on a short-handed goal, giving the Matadors a 4-1 victory.
“We didn’t play bad, but we didn’t play to our potential, considering we are going to Regionals next weekend,” Gale said. “We have three to four practices coming up to really kick it into gear and hopefully do well in the [playoffs].”