After a rough past two months, the Titans’ ice hockey team closed out their December on Friday with a 3-1 victory over the USC Trojans, avenging their previous loss to them earlier this month.
“The first part of our season didn’t really turn out how we wanted it to, so now’s the time to turn it around,” assistant coach Chris Houlihan said. “We had a big talk before the game about where we want our season to go. Right now we have 11 games left so it’s do-or-die. Kind of like how the Lakers are right now.”
Despite the rough past two months—the Titans dropped five in a row in November—the team appeared confident against the same foe that defeated them 4-1 earlier this month.
The Titans came out fast and aggressive to start the first period, swarming the Trojan zone and firing off a volley of shots before a pair of penalties cooled their offense.
USC reciprocated by taking a pair of penalties themselves, with the Titans capitalizing while on the 2-man advantage to put them up 1-0.
A faceoff win in the offensive zone resulted in some back and forth passing between Taylor Castle and Zach Henderson before Castle ripped a snapshot past the Spartan goalie.
At that point, the Titans were clearly in control of the game, but their momentum was again halted by another penalty, allowing the Spartans to tie the game up on their power play.
Sean Saligumba crashed the net and tapped the puck in to put the Titans back in the lead early in the second. Tempo slowed from that point on until Henderson scored to put CSUF up 3-1 halfway through the third.
“It started with Ryan Cruz on the half wall, and I just came shooting down the slot and luckily he found me with a great pass. The goalie came out pretty aggressively so I just kind of went around the net to open it up. I actually tried to find Taylor in front of the net, but lucky for me it bounced off the goalie and went into the net,” Henderson said.
When asked about the Titans’ chance to widen the lead, Castle said “I wish we would have. We missed a few quality chances, I missed an empty netter at the end there, but all-in-all we played well the whole game with only a couple of lapses.”
Despite the tight game, the Titans appeared to be having fun on the ice.
“We definitely wanted to keep the intensity up, and just be loud on the bench. Keeping it lively on the bench just helps us out,” Houlihan said.
Castle added that “when things start going your way, it starts becoming fun. Once you get back to the basics of the game, it becomes fun to play again.”
With 11 games remaining on the season, Castle, Henderson and Houlihan all agreed that the team needs to step its game up.
“We’re definitely not where we want to be. I think even with a win, there’s always room for improvement for us because we’re a pretty young team. You have to start with small steps,” Henderson said.
The Titans resume play on Jan. 4 when they face Illinois at 8:30 p.m. at the KHS Ice Arena.