By Paul Mullin
Near the end of a seven-game homestand at Louck’s Ice Center, the Rider ice hockey team gave itself a boost by defeating Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association (MACHA) rivals Rowan and the University of Pennsylvania (U-Penn) this past weekend.
The Broncs (16-8, 6-7 MACHA) defeated Rowan (4-7-1) 11-3 on Friday, Jan. 30 and beat U-Penn (2-11) 5-2 the next night. Both wins avenged Bronc losses earlier in the year, 6-3 to U-Penn in October and 9-2 to Rowan in November.
“Right now, we are playing not only the best hockey we’ve played this season, but we are playing the best hockey we’ve played in my three years with this team,” said junior forward Tom D’Aurizio. “We knew we were a better team than both Rowan and U-Penn, but we didn’t play our game when we visited them at their home rink.”
Rider got off to a fast start against Rowan, scoring its first three goals in the first 10 minutes of the game. Sophomore defender Brian Folkes scored the first just over four minutes in, followed by D’Aurizio and sophomore forward DJ Nork.
But the Profs would answer just 18 seconds later, scoring all three goals in the second half of the first period.
“I’m always worried during a hockey game, whether it’s the score, penalties, injuries, etcetera,” said Head Coach Ted Gerry. “Our puck movement has been the best it has been all season. I had the feeling that our guys would play well.”
The second period was without doubt the most eventful of the game for the Broncs, who scored six goals: one from sophomore defender Nicklas Ryskasen, a hat trick from senior forward Merlin Thompson, and two by junior forward George Helock.
The Profs felt the sting of the penalty box in the second, since three of the Broncs’ goals were scored on power plays. In fact, both teams spent a good amount of time dealing with penalties, accumulating a total of 64 penalty minutes in the second period alone. This was thanks to the assigning of four 10-minute misconduct penalties, two for each team.
“They didn’t like the fact that we didn’t let off the gas pedal after going up by six or seven goals and they started taking cheap shots at some of our key players,” said D’Aurizio, against whom one of the misconduct penalties was levied. “Our team reacted well and stuck up for one another and ultimately got our main job done and that was winning the game.”
The Broncs entered the third period up 9-3, but for good measure, sophomore defender Brenden Hellyer netted a 10th Rider goal less than two minutes in and Helock completed a hat trick just 25 seconds later.
The Broncs spent more time in the penalty box during the game (40 minutes), but Rowan was unable to take advantage of any of its 12 power play opportunities. Rider managed to utilize three of its nine power play chances, even scoring one short-handed goal in the second period.
“Our power play has improved from the beginning of the season,” Gerry said. “We work on this in practice and some of our top players are beginning to find the net.”
Against the U-Penn Quakers the next night, Rider might not have had the same fast start it did against Rowan, but U-Penn didn’t take advantage of it. The first period was scoreless, but Thompson didn’t wait long to score his 10th goal of the season 1:19 into the second.
U-Penn leading scorer Sam Lerer evened the tally three minutes later, but freshman forward Conor Dragone made a power play goal to get the ball rolling again for Rider. Ryskasen scored to close the second, Thompson scored to open the third, and the Broncs found themselves with a three-point lead with 15 minutes left in the game.
U-Penn scored again on a power play goal with six minutes left, but Rider freshman forward Andrew Michael provided insurance with just under three minutes to go.
Rider now has just three games remaining on its conference schedule, the next coming tonight against a Wagner team that beat the Broncs 16-3 on Oct. 30, 2008.
“When you play a team like Wagner you just try to stay competitive, do the little things right, and not get into bad habits because it is only one game,” D’Aurizio said. “They put their pants on one leg at a time just like us. That’s why you play the game, because any team can win on any given night.”