By Brandon Scalea
Club hockey officially returned to Rider on Sept. 26 when the Broncs started off the 2014-15 season against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) at the Loucks Ice Arena, located five minutes from Rider.
In a physical game where penalty minutes were abundant, the Broncs (2-0) left the ice with a 4-1 victory. The game featured two goals by junior forward Andrew Heinz and a noteworthy performance in net by senior goaltender Nate Kholodenko.
The Engineers immediately put the young Broncs team, consisting of 12 freshmen and sophomores, to the test. Rider dominated possession early and pressured the RPI goaltender.
It didn’t take the Broncs long to find the back of the net, as Heinz broke the ice at the 3:37 mark of the first period with a power-play goal. The score was assisted by freshman Chris Johnson.
Rider had several opportunities to increase the first-period lead, but the Engineers’ goaltending was unbreakable, especially after a five-minute major penalty that resulted in an ejection for RPI.
The second period began with a scary moment as an RPI forward skated into Kholodenko and sent him head over heels into the ice. The Broncs’ goalie was slow to get to his feet, but remained in the game.
This proved to be the turning point, as tempers immediately flared after the incident. A brawl ensued after the next faceoff and two Broncs were ejected.
Freshman forward John Martino feels his team’s grit will benefit its players this season.
“Both games we played aggressively on the puck and jumped up to make a hit whenever we could,” Martino said. “We saw teams starting to back off the 50-50 battles and get tired a lot more quickly.”
After some big saves by Kholodenko, the Broncs scored again at the 10:01 mark of the second period. The goal was scored by sophomore forward Larry Walker, who was assisted by freshman Michael Katz and senior forward Mike Kennedy.
The Engineers were finally able to sustain some pressure early in the final period, and with a little more than 13 minutes left in regulation, the Engineers were able to get one past Kholodenko.
The momentum would swing back quickly. Just four minutes later, Heinz scored another power-play goal, assisted by junior defenseman Connor Fox. Moments later, the Broncs would strike again. Katz, who finished with two points, scored his first goal as a Bronc with 2:23 left to make it a 4-1 victory for Rider.
The following night, the Broncs traveled to Lancaster, Pa., to take on Millersville University. Strong penalty killing, another goal by Heinz, and another big outing from Kholodenko resulted in a 3-1 win on the road and a perfect start to the season.
In Lancaster, the Broncs were outshot early, but were able to settle down midway through the first period. Kholodenko battled in the crease, and credits his defense for keeping the puck out of harm’s way.
“The boys in front of me are working really hard,” Kholodenko said. “I am only an extension of how my defense plays.”
Early in the second period, Rider was able to break the scoreless tie. Fox scored the first goal of the game, assisted by senior defenseman Chris Burgert.
After the goal, the game opened up. A Broncs penalty resulted in a power play for Millersville. They cashed in on the opportunity and tied the game. Just seconds later, Heinz scored his third goal of the season, giving the Broncs a 2-1 lead.
The Broncs would take a 3-1 lead after sophomore forward Max Daley tipped in a shot. Millersville pressured Kholodenko for the rest of the game, but was unable to score again as the final horn sounded and the Broncs won.
Despite recording wins in their first two games, Head Coach Sean Levin says there is still work to be done, especially in addressing the brawl against RPI.
“It’s great to start the season off with two wins but we didn’t play our best hockey,” Levin said. “I was disappointed with the lack of discipline Friday night but it’s a great teachable moment. Going forward it’s vital we avoid taking unnecessary penalties.”
On Oct. 3, Rider hockey will travel to State College, Pa., to take on Penn State in a big test on the road. Levin says this game against a team like the Nittany Lions will provide needed experience for the team.
“Penn State is a great organization that is coming off a final four appearance at Nationals last year,” he said. “They return many of their top players so we know that it’s going to be a spirited game.”