The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Matadors look to finish strong in second half of season

The CSUN hockey team has not been the dominant force it was last season, but at the midway point of the season, the players are confident their best hockey lies ahead.

The Matadors skated their way to a 7-4 record during the first two months of the season, recording two wins apiece against Sacramento and UC Davis and suffering disappointing losses to College of the Canyons and UC San Diego. They are currently ranked fifth in the Pacific Conference of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

This is a far cry from their 18-2 record last season, when they were skating circles around inferior opponents. This season, they’ve tested their skills against some of the best teams collegiate club hockey has to offer.

The team traveled to Rochester, Minn. last month to compete in the ACHA Showcase Tournament. The Matadors dropped two close games to Fredonia 3-2 (in overtime) and South Dakota State 3-1, but redeemed themselves by throttling Shippensburg 8-2.

“We’ve been real busy the last few weeks,” senior forward Andy McDonald said. “We’ve learned a lot about the players on our team.”

Leading the charge for the Matadors are talented scorers Vitaliy Tsymbalov, Keyan Safyari and Tom Lalley, who comprise the team’s top-scoring line. The three forwards have netted 21 goals combined this season. Tsymbalov, a transfer student from Belarus, leads the team with eight goals and nine assists.

“We’re more of a finesse team,” McDonald said. “We’re not that physical.”

Sophomore defenseman and team captain J.P. Gale is the exception to the rule. Gale is a 6-foot, 220-pound bruiser, who protects his teammates from opponents who decide to get rough.

“J.P. is our policeman out there,” head coach Sean McLynn said. “He’s a good deterrent for other teams.”

Gale, who is from Palmdale, had several offers from NCAA Division I hockey programs before blowing his wrist out in a junior hockey game. The injury put him out of hockey for a couple of years. He stumbled upon the CSUN team during his freshman year, and rekindled his love for the game.

“(J.P.) is one of the most dedicated players I’ve ever been around,” McLynn said.

Gale considers himself one of the most physical players in the league, but he doesn’t like to be called an enforcer, since fighting is prohibited in all levels of collegiate hockey. A player receives a game misconduct penalty for fighting, as well as a suspension from the team’s next game.

“One game is a lot in a 20-game season,” Gale said. “If guys want to fight, that’s fine. They’d probably lose.”

Backing the much-improved defense is goaltender Luis Miguel Aceves. Aceves has allowed only 4.33 goals per game this season, while racking up an 84 percent save percentage. Aceves is a grad student, in his last year with the team.

“(Aceves) is as good as they come,” McDonald said. “He’s one of the best goalies in the nation.”

CSUN will lose seven players to graduation after this season. Top-scorer Tsymbalov, team leader and slick passer McDonald, Aceves and Sefyari will be key losses for the Matadors.

Luckily, McLynn expects a number of talented youngsters to fill the void next season. Forwards Ryan Jackson and Matt Parris are transferring to CSUN next year and have committed to play hockey.

“We’re gaining a lot of good young guys,” McLynn said. “We should be fine.”

Parris is transferring from Moorpark College, and Jackson from rival College of the Canyons. CSUN and COC have developed a bitter rivalry during the last few years. COC defeated the Matadors 4-2 earlier in the season in a physical contest.

“There’s a ton of penalties when we play each other,” McDonald said. “It’s always a big game.”

McDonald said because of the close proximity of CSUN and COC, many of the players played junior hockey with each other.

“It’s an ego thing,” he said. “You can’t lose to your friend.”

The Matadors’ game against COC on Dec. 12 was postponed due to scheduling conflicts, which gives CSUN more than a month of rest. Some of the players are worried that the long layoff may affect the team’s momentum. The Matadors have won their last three games, while scoring 17 goals combined.

When the Matadors return to the ice in January, they will face UC Irvine and San Jose State twice. After that, the team will have a showdown with top-ranked San Diego State on Jan. 19.

McLynn said that the team is just beginning to gel and the second half of the season will be a proving ground. He recently put together a new scoring line, with McDonald and speedy sophomore forward Jason Bobich. He expects big things from them in the second half.

“They’re real fast and real effective,” McLynn said. “(McDonald) is a playmaker. He’s great at seeing plays develop.”

The Matadors’ next home game is Jan. 5 at 8:30 p.m. against UC Irvine at the Valley Ice Center in Panorama City.

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