The Cal State Fullerton hockey team is ready to hit the ice next week in what it hopes will be the start of a successful season that will eventually take the Titans to the ACHA regional tournament in February.
After the first official practice Tuesday night, the Titans are feeling good about the upcoming 2011-12 campaign.
â€œIâ€™m very optimistic about the upcoming season,â€ said Brandon Heethuis, goaltender and team captain. â€œWeâ€™re a pretty young team this year. The experienced guys need to step up this year and try to help out the new rookies. Our goal is ultimately to make regionals.â€
In order to accomplish this, the Titans know they are going to have to play better in their own zone than they did last season, when they often got bottled up defensively and allowed too many shots on goal per game. They averaged about 40 shots against per game last year.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to lock down the defensive zone,â€ Heethuis said. â€œMe being the goalie, I need to help carry the defense and keep the puck out of the back of the net. Every other game we were getting out-shot and we canâ€™t have that this year.â€
The Titans finished 13-16-0 last season, allowing 150 goals against in 31 games.
But on the positive side, the Titans have faith in their current defensive core, a side of the team that should be a strong point this season, Heethuis said.
After the defensive woes of seasons past, Heethuis is looking forward to potentially having solid blue liners, an aspect that is very important to the success of a goaltender.
Up front, the Titans are hopeful. Despite losing their top scorer from last season, third-year Titan forward Patrick McDevitt believes the team has the potential to be as good offensively as it was last season when it collectively scored 126 goals in the 31 games played.
â€œItâ€™s never good when you lose your top scorer, but we have a couple kids who have the potential to be just as good,â€ said McDevitt. â€œWeâ€™ve got a bunch of guys who are returning and everyone is just one year better.â€
â€œWhen the chemistry clicks, thereâ€™s going to be a lot of teams that are going to have a hard time stopping us,â€ he said.
Last seasonâ€™s top goal scorer for the Titans was senior forward Chris Houlihan, who netted 25 goals and 35 points in 30 games.
Losing that point production might hurt, but the Titans remain confident in their offensive presence.
Although Heethuis said the team is young, the Titans are growing into a tight-knit group.
Anyone who has played a team sport knows that camaraderie is key to holding a team together and creating chemistry; the Titans know this as well.
â€œIt takes up a lot of your time playing on this team, even when youâ€™re not playing hockey,â€ McDevitt said. â€œJust last night we had 14 or 15 guys go out to dinner (after practice).â€
The Titans have been training the whole summer for the upcoming season at Head Coach Nick Moranâ€™s gym, Primal Justice Training Center in Irvine, working on off-ice conditioning.
â€œ(Coach Moran) was nice enough to let us all go in there and use it whenever we want, so thatâ€™s definitely different from seasons past where weâ€™ve never had anything like that, where we really did any real off-ice conditioning,â€ said Titan forward Anthony Webb, who is also the team president.
With the fast, high-intensity sport that hockey is, McDevitt believes the off-ice training will help the Titans to get through a long season.
The long season begins Saturday, Oct. 1 at Anaheim Ice, where they will face off against USC to kick things off.
â€œWeâ€™ve been gearing up for this for three months,â€ McDevitt said of the game against USC next week. â€œItâ€™s basically Christmas. This is what you get excited for as a hockey player.â€