By Trey Wright
It was a tale of two different teams, with Rider club ice hockey earning a large victory on Feb. 11 against West Chester, and dropping a winnable game against Drexel on Feb. 12.
Senior night showdown
The Broncs looked to get one final win at home this season before gearing up for a deep playoff run on Feb. 11. It was the last home game of the year, and it was senior night for the Broncs.
Before the game, the team honored its seven graduating seniors: center TJ Evan, winger Chris Walako, winger Tyler Giwerowski, defenseman Nick Ruggero, winger Dylan Quinn, goaltender Eric Lineman and goaltender Adam Godfrey.
“This group [has been] the torchbearers that took us from maybe Rider gets in, maybe Rider doesn’t, to Rider’s a mainstay in the southeast in the Mid-Atlantic [Collegiate Hockey League],” said Head Coach Sean Levin.
Freshman winger Joey Cole opened the scoring with an assist from Evan and sophomore defenseman Nick Pedulla. Cole lit the lamp once again 26 seconds later, with assists from Evan and sophomore winger Christian Wawrzynski, to double the score.
Freshman center Cole Schneider delivered a massive hit to a Golden Ram, who retaliated by knocking Schneider to the ice and landing several punches, before being rocked by junior defenseman Michael Dalfarra, sticking up for Schneider.
The chaos ultimately set up a long 3-on-3 with plenty of open ice, and what proceeded can only be described as clear-cut domination by the Broncs.
Graduate student defenseman Michael Jinks sniped a shot to triple the lead, and mere seconds later, Evan was the first senior to score a goal on senior night.
Junior defenseman Eddie Coyne put the Broncs up by five with a juicy dangle, assisted by Cole, right before entering the first intermission.
The Broncs scored three goals within the span of 39 seconds.
Ruggero netted his first goal of the season moments into the second period, assisted by Evan and Cole, and was quickly followed up with Cole himself scoring his third goal of the night, earning hat tricks in back-to-back weekends.
“We’re just trying to get it going in the playoffs, and just trying to get the job done,” said Cole.
Sophomore center CJ Perkins added to the fray by extending the lead to eight, with assists from Dalfarra and sophomore winger Justin Rauch.
Lineman, who saved all 15 shots he faced, was replaced by Godfrey midway through the game, allowing both senior netminders to get playing time.
“Me and Ernie [Eric Lineman], glad we could both get in the game,”Godfrey said afterward. “Sharing the net with Ernie’s awesome, such a good kid, good person to be around practicing, and then having everyone here is always cool.”
Junior winger DJ Sucher made the score 9-0 with assists from Evan and Perkins and Giwerowski placed the lead in the double-digits, with yet another assist from Evan, who ended up leading the team that night with nine points.
“Ultimately, with six other seniors, just to go out there and have fun and to have that kind of game is gonna be something special, looking back four, five years from now,”said Evan.
Evan assisted again on a highlight reel toe-drag goal from sophomore winger Dom Cerceo right before intermission to make the lead a staggering 11 entering the third period.
The cherry on top was when junior winger Tony Olivio backhanded the puck into the net, to record his first career collegiate goal, and there was not a single Bronc on the bench that did not have a smile on their face.
“It felt amazing, great to get it off my chest,” an all-smiles Olivio sai.d “I honestly didn’t even know it went in, the only reason I knew is when TJ celebrated, and then I obviously celebrated.”
Godfrey, who stopped all seven shots he faced, was pulled with less than five minutes to go for sophomore netminder Justin Wellman.
West Chester was able to get on the board with minutes remaining, but it was the Broncs winning in commanding fashion, 12-1.
“When an event game occurs, it’s a harder focus,” said Levin, “The first six, seven minutes it was 0-0, but we finally got our traction and found the puck in the back of the net. We really played our game, and I’m really proud of my guys.”
Complete Lack of Effort
With a conference playoff position locked up, the Broncs came into the regular-season finale against a Drexel team that was winless in MACH conference play and that they had previously dominated with a relaxed attitude.
Drexel got on the board less than five minutes into the period, with a shot just trickling past Godfrey.
Rauch, who rang a shot off the left post earlier, scored with a wrist shot to tie the game up midway through the frame, assisted by Walako and Jinks.
The Dragons responded two minutes later, making the score 2-1 going into the first intermission.
The second period, which has statistically been the best period for Rider this season, was nothing short of frustrating. Aside from a partial breakaway from Wawrzynski earlier in the frame, a shot from Sucher which sailed over the crossbar on a power play was the best scoring chance for the Broncs in the second.
Drexel extended the lead to two after a Dragon forward skated around Jinks and buried the puck, and Drexel nearly extended it to four when Pedulla froze in the slot with seconds remaining, but Godfrey was able to make the save point-blank.
“We were pretty much sleepwalking through 40+ minutes tonight,” Levin said. “It’s the mentality, and I think that’s been the Achilles’ heel for this team all throughout the regular season; We see a team on paper, and we walk into a game thinking our skill will beat them every time.”
The power play finally came through for the Broncs when Coyne, with help from Sucher and Perkins, knocked in the puck to make it a 3-2 game, giving Rider a glimmer of hope to tie the Dragons.
Yet another missed power-play opportunity canceled out by a tripping penalty by Cerceo would seal the game, as the Broncs fell 3-2, despite putting 50 shots on net.
“For the six, seven minutes that we played the Rider game in the third period, the ice was tilted,” said Levin. “But you can’t expect to win in any league, especially this league, playing only [a few] minutes of a period.”
Godfrey, despite the loss, was strong in goal saving 39 out of the 42 shots he faced.
The Broncs ended the regular season with a record of 17-4-2-1 and will be the second seed in the MACH Playoffs, facing Maryland at Ice Land Skating Center at 4:15.