By Trey Wright
It was an intense and heartbreaking weekend of playoff hockey for the Rider club ice hockey team with the Broncs defeating Maryland on Feb. 18 and in-state rival Rowan on Feb. 19 before falling short to the Liberty in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association (MACH) finals on Feb. 20.
Rider began the tournament with a comeback win against Maryland, 7-5 to open up MACH playoffs.
The Terps began scoring halfway in the first period, firing a shot past senior goaltender Eric Lineman on the power play.
The Broncs got on the board with 28 seconds left in the frame, tying the game at 1-1.
The game went back and forth in the second period, with plenty goals from both teams. By the end of the period, the Broncs were down 5-4.
“Tonight was about managing momentum, and we failed that in the first 40 minutes,” said Head Coach Sean Levin. “We could’ve been better for Eric [Lineman], and it’s all about the guys on the ice.”
Senior goaltender Adam Godfrey took over for Lineman entering the third and ended up stopping all six shots he faced.
On the other end of the ice, senior winger Chris Walako tied the game at five, and Sucher finally gave the Broncs the lead back with a wrist shot up high with 12:20 left in the game.
Cerceo netted his second goal of the game 50 seconds later, and Maryland could not answer, securing a win over the Terps.
“It was a back and forth game, and we were hoping to keep the pressure on them,” said Sucher. “We stepped on the gas and didn’t let off.”
Pushing past the profs
Rider versus Rowan. This intense rivalry gave two great games in the regular season, but overlapping into the playoffs set up one arguably the Broncs’ best matchup yet.
Just like it had in the two previous matchups, Rider came out on top of a physical tilt with the Profs, escaping with a 4-3 win over its in-state foe in the semifinals.
Freshman center Joey Cole got the scoring going just past the midway point in the first period, but the Profs responded on their own power play shortly thereafter.
Rider struck again. This time junior defenseman Eddie Coyne sniping one past Rowan’s netminder, giving the Broncs the lead back at the end of the first period.
“Everytime we play [Rowan], it’s a hard game, hard battle,” said Coyne.
Walako extended the lead to two with just under nine minutes left in the second frame make it 3-1 game.
Rowan responded to make it 3-2 and tied the game with less than five minutes remaining in the period, despite Godfrey being slashed in the head, incensing the Bronc bench.
“They said it was a good goal, so it was a good goal,” Godfrey said after the game. “Not much else to say about that, but we still came out on top.”
Sucher broke the tie with four minutes left in the second to make it 4-3, and just like the game prior, ended up netting the game winning goal.
“It was really important for us to manage our momentum,” said Levin, “It was a 60 minute effort, and I’m proud of my guys.”
Slugfest comes up short
Rider entered the MACH finals with their toughest task of the season: defeat a juggernaut Liberty Flames team who was undefeated in conference play in the regular season.
Aside from a massive hit by Cole in the first minute of the game, it was a slow start for the Broncs, as Liberty commanded the first 10 minutes, including putting a goal past Godfrey to take the lead.
“We talked about this game being a heavy-weight boxing match,” said Levin. “We easily could’ve folded, but we did not.”
The second saw a more even battle between the two teams, but a costly penalty by the Broncs allowed the Flames to extend the lead to two.
The third period produced some of the best hockey Rider had played all season long, going toe-to-toe with Liberty.
Evan fired an electrifying wrist shot past Liberty’s goaltender with 1:43 left in the third to give the Broncs hope.
Time ran out on the Broncs championship hopes, as Liberty put the game away with an empty net goal, defeating the Broncs 3-1.
“We were able to find our footing towards the end of the game,” said Levin. “Season’s not over, we’re not done yet, but still very proud of them.”
Three Rider members earned tournament awards after the game, with Sucher, Coyne and Godfrey being named to the tournament team and Godfrey being named Tournament MVP for his performances.
The Broncs will go on to the ACHA Regional Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, facing Ohio State in the first round on Feb. 25, at 1 p.m.