DII IceJacks go 2–1 in inaugural showcase
BY TYLER CHILDERS —
The Northern Arizona University (NAU) IceJacks hosted the first annual NAU Mountain Hockey Showcase from Dec. 5–7. Weber State University (WSU), ASU and San Jose State University (SJSU) came to Flagstaff for the showcase consisting of three games in three nights.
“For as banged up as we are, we played good,” said head coach Travis Johanson. “We’ve got a lot of guys out . . . not bad for as hurt as we are.”
NAU closed the showcase with a 6–4 victory against San Jose State on Dec. 7. Dominating the game early, the SJSU Spartans scored once before the first period ended, and twice more early in the second. The IceJacks shifted the momentum in their favor with a big contribution from senior forward Zach Vachris.
Vachris buried two goals one minute apart, which set the IceJacks on a huge run in which they scored five unanswered goals on the Spartans. A goal by SJSU ended NAU’s run, but senior forward Adam Surber quickly responded with an insurance goal on a great shot from a tough angle.
“We just started rolling our lines,” Vachris said. “Whoever wasn’t playing didn’t see as much ice and Ruso [Anthony Caruso] really stood on his head there for us. We came out strong and just kept building on that.”
Sophomore goaltender Anthony Caruso started for NAU in place of senior James Korte, who struggled at times in the first two games of the showcase. Caruso was able to step up for the IceJacks in crucial situations.
“It’s good to get him in there and get him a win,” Johanson said of Caruso. “Korte struggled the last couple nights and let in some soft ones but it’s good to get Ruso in there, he’s an ultimate team guy and deserves a time.”
The ASU game started out similarly, with ASU scoring 26 seconds into the game. The Sun Devils stretched their lead to three before the IceJacks came alive. Sophomore forward Corey Briody started the scoring run for NAU and Vachris added the second goal on their way to four unanswered goals. With 1.6 seconds left in the second period, ASU scored on the powerplay and went into the locker room tied.
With 20 minutes left, the Sun Devils scored twice, despite the IceJacks receiving many chances in the last frame. The eventual game-winning goal was due to Korte leaving his net to play the puck below the goal line, but ASU quickly corralled the loose puck and deposited it in the empty net. ASU added another goal to finish the game on top 6–4.
“I thought we played a good game,” Johanson said. “We had three really soft goals. First 30 seconds, we had a blown assignment for a guy back door and three really weak goals. It’s a 4–2 hockey game in our favor [without those].”
The IceJacks started the showcase against Weber State, where they had five players on the ice and five on the bench. Fatigue and elevation led to the demise of the Wildcats, but the game was decided in the last minute.
Senior forward Gregory Park sniped the puck past the Weber State goalie to complete the hat trick, but more importantly, get a win for his team.
“I was just picking corners and the goalie wasn’t there,” Park said. “We had good screens, Zach [Vachris] was screening, Ryan [Greenspan] was screening, [Adam] Surber was screening, he [WSU goalie] couldn’t even see them and they were just going in.”
The IceJacks will have their longest break of the year with the holidays approaching. They return to the ice to host Texas A&M University on Jan. 9–10 at the Jay Lively Center.