By Rob Rose
After finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a 14-12-1 record, the Broncs opened this season with nine additions to the roster. Leading the team were returning stars senior forward Chris Johnson, senior defenseman JJ Santagata and junior forwards Cole Moskal and Nicholas Leelum.
After an exhibition game against Princeton, the Broncs opened the season against Lehigh on Sept. 23. Starting in net for the Broncs was junior goalie CJ Lineman.
The first period was a feeling-out process for both sides, with new players battling some early-season jitters. As the game went on, the Broncs started to find their rhythm, firing shots at the Mountain Hawks.
After one period, the score was 0-0.
Starting the second period shorthanded, with penalties against junior forward Jake Lukis and Santagata, the Broncs’ defense was able to kill off a two-man advantage for Lehigh. Defensive play was a question mark for Rider entering the season, with a group of freshman defensemen and with Leelum changing positions to forward.
A pair of new defensemen shined in their debuts. Freshmen Mike Kauffman and Michael Jinks made their mark with impressive play.
Santagata had high praise for the newcomers.
“To see Jinks and Kauffman handle the pressure of their first game the way they did just shows the talent these two possess,” he said.
After the second period, the game was still tied at zero.
In the third period, the Broncs were able to take advantage of a penalty on Lehigh and Moskal got the first goal of the season for Rider, assisted by Santagata and Lukis.
In the game’s final minutes, the Mountain Hawks found themselves trailing by a goal and on the powerplay. After pulling their goalie to gain an extra skater in one last attempt to tie the game, Lehigh threw everything they had at Lineman.
After one of the 22 saves made by Lineman, the Broncs gathered the puck and Moskal found the back of an empty net, increasing the lead to 2-0 and sealing the win for Rider.
The following day, the Broncs faced the Army Golden Knights.
Starting for the Broncs was junior goalie Angelo Perri, who will be splitting time in net with Lineman this season, according to Head Coach Sean Levin.
The challenge for the Broncs in this game was their energy level. Playing that afternoon following a night game was difficult. With so many new players unaccustomed to the intensity and physicality of collegiate hockey, the team was put to the test.
The defense was led by Santagata and junior Mark Fisher. Levin said that Fisher was the most improved player this offseason, specifically that he “has really taken tremendous strides in developing as a defenseman.” Levin added that Fisher’s effort off the ice, in the classroom and the weight room, show as well.
In the second game of the season, goals were easier to come by. Army opened the scoring in the first period with a highlight-reel goal by Keegan Thomas on a breakaway.
Junior forward Vincent Arlotta evened the score late in the first period, assisted by Johnson and senior forward Eric Bozzi.
In the second period, the Golden Knights took back the lead, scoring twice. Moskal was able to find the net for the third time in two games, but at the end of two periods, Army led 3-2.
With just over five minutes remaining in the third period, last season’s leading scorer Johnson received a pass from Kauffman and sped past the Golden Knights’ defense to tie the game.
After playing five extra minutes in overtime, the teams headed to a shootout. In the third round of the shootout, after Perri’s brilliant save, Moskal had a chance to end the game.
Moskal skated in and blasted a shot past the Golden Knights’ goalie, and the Broncs’ bench spilled onto the ice to celebrate the win.
Opening the season with a 2-0 record, the Broncs are tied for fourth in the southeast division of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Broncs’ next home game is on Sept. 30 at 8:30 p.m. at Loucks Ice Center at the Lawrenceville School.