By Tom Albano
Rider’s ice hockey team (8-5-1) is gearing up for a big weekend, as it goes on the road to take on Virginia Tech (4-3-0) tonight and Liberty (5-2-0) on Saturday night.
This will be the first game for the team since its 5-2 loss to Rowan on Nov. 17.
The players feel there were various flaws that cost them the game against Rowan, including penalties and failing to score goals at key times.
“We were not able to capitalize on our opportunities,” Head Coach Sean Levin said. “We failed to convert on a few power plays in the second and third. We had a 5-3 man advantage that we failed to score on.”
Senior forward Brandon Lopez agreed.
“We made a couple of mistakes and we were outworked,” he said. “Overall, the team just wasn’t working together. We didn’t play to the level that we could have. It would have been nice to have won since Rowan is ranked second.”
Although there were no games or required team practices over the Thanksgiving break, Levin still made sure the team wouldn’t lose its momentum.
“We wanted the team to enjoy the break and spend time with family and friends,” Levin said. “Our strength and conditioning coach, D.J. Nork Sr., provided the team with exercises to stay loose. We have a long and demanding season, so a few mental and physical days off can be beneficial.”
Some players on the team, however, took it upon themselves to get some practice in before officially returning to the ice.
“We needed to regroup a little, and we kind of did,” Lopez said. “A few of us played over the break and a few of us hit the gym to stay in shape even though Thanksgiving was around.”
The team took advantage of the break to come back rested.
“Over the break, we don’t have any team functions,” junior forward Mike Rossi said. “We look at it as a bye week to let us recharge the batteries.”
Now the team is focusing for its games this weekend against Virginia Tech and Liberty. These games are important to the Broncs because their opponents are also regionally ranked. Rider is ranked eighth, while Virginia Tech is ranked sixth and Liberty fourth.
“We need to win if we want to stay in the top 10,” Lopez said. “The team also wants to forget about the struggles we had against Rowan.”
Freshman forward Joe Ensmann agreed.
“We’re trying to do well after the break,” Ensmann said. “Coach says to turn the page. It’s going to be a whole other game.”
With these games, the Broncs are fighting for a shot at the postseason and feel confident in their chances.
“We have a pretty solid record, and we can compete with almost any team as long as we’re on top of our game,” Ensmann said.
Lopez agreed with Ensmann’s thoughts.
“When we play a full 60 minutes, we definitely can beat any team in the league,” he said.
Levin emphasizes that there’s still more to do.
“We haven’t played our best hockey yet,” Levin said. “There have been a few games where we played well, but certain areas still need work. We still have games against some top teams like Navy, Drexel, Rowan, Penn State, Liberty and Marist. In my opinion, we control our destiny. Winning some of these games will solidify our spot in regionals and contend for the playoffs. It will take effort from everyone in order to win.”