Spartans back home after long road trip
There’s no place like home, even if that home is known as the Mad House.
After spending a month on the road to start the season, the Southern Oregon Spartans Junior A hockey players will finally touch their blades to familiar ice tonight at 7:30 when they host the defending Western States Hockey League champion Idaho Jr. Steelheads. The matchup is the first in a three-game series with the Steelheads at The RRRink (1349 Center Drive in Medford), dubbed the Mad House.
Tickets are $15 for reserved seating, $10 for general admission and $8 for students with identification. Cost for children ages 2-6 is $4. The teams square off again Saturday at 7:30 p.m., then play the series finale at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Southern Oregon, now in its fourth season in the WSHL, will play a 48-game regular-season schedule that concludes March 6.
The Spartans, who enter tonight’s contest at 7-5, have won six straight since a 1-5 start. The recent hot streak has helped ease the long and tiresome travels that saw Southern Oregon make trips to Washington, Southern California, Montana and Idaho.
“We did the mileage at the start of the season,” said second-year Southern Oregon coach David Cole, “and we figured those first four weeks would be equal to traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast. That’s a lot of miles.
“It’s been very taxing on our guys, but that’s part of hockey life. We’re very excited about coming home and playing in such a great atmosphere.”
The early season road trips may have been a strain on the squad but it has also helped the team jell, said Cole.
“We had no preseason, so we were thrown right into the fire,” Cole said. “I think being on the road that much brings a team together.”
Also helping to build chemistry was nine players returning to the Spartans lineup from last season.
“We have those nine core guys and I thought we did a good job recruiting this summer,” Cole said. “It took a little time to build that chemistry, but I think we’re getting there.”
Christopher Seto, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward, leads Southern Oregon with 12 goals and 10 assists. Doug Gutierrez (5-11, 180, forward), who Cole said has had some interest from a handful of Division I schools, has a team-high 14 assists, while Drew Carriere (6-2, 220, forward) has 12 assists.
Cole also highlighted the efforts of 5-11, 190-pound defenseman Colin Elder, one of the team’s captains and a key returning player. Other returners for the Spartans are RJ Haenze (6-1, 195, forward), Brody Surette (6-1, 205, defenseman), Tyler Kupka (6-1, 175, defenseman) and Tymen Edelkoort (5-11, 180, goalie).
Cy Jenson (5-10, 155, forward), a former South Medford High standout, returns for his third season with Southern Oregon. He is the lone Medford product on the squad.
Of the 24 players on the Southern Oregon roster, 14 are international players. There are 10 players from Canada and one player each from Australia, Austria, England and the Czech Republic.
“This is a good group of guys,” said Cole. “Honestly, the nice part is our offensive production has come by committee. It’s really spread out. Last year, our offensive production came from a handful of guys, but that hasn’t been the case this year.”
The Spartans will have their hands full with the Steelheads, who swept a three-game series with Southern Oregon earlier this season by a combined score of 23-4. Idaho (11-0) is second in the WSHL Northwest Division standings behind the Missoula Maulers.
Southern Oregon sits in fourth place. Other teams in the division include the Seattle Totems, Butte Cobras, Whitefish Wolverines and Lake Tahoe Icemen.
The Steelheads have outscored opponents 81-10 and have allowed just one goal over their last four contests. Nikita Zgirskis leads Idaho with 12 goals. He totaled 55 points last season in leading the Steelheads to their third Thorne Cup in four seasons.
“Idaho is a very quick team,” said Cole. “They have a large European content to their lineup. They’re very skilled.”
To stay on their current hot streak, the Spartans must maintain their identity, Cole said.
“We have to be physical and disciplined,” said the coach. “That’s our style of hockey. We can certainly compete with them. We are confident of that.”