By Shaun Chornobroff
Considering Rider was facing off against a Montclair State team that it routinely decimates, it would be natural to assume that the Broncs club ice hockey team would cruise to a victory in their Sept. 23 season opener.
Despite having the advantage of playing on their home ice and having almost 30 more shots on goal, Rider had issues finding the back of the net and relied on a mixture of established veterans and new faces to eke out a 3-2 overtime victory over Montclair on their home ice to begin the 2022-23 campaign.
“I’ve been coaching for 10-plus years; a win’s a win,” Rider Head Coach Sean Levin said after the handshakes between the two teams had concluded. “You don’t ask how, just how many. Sure, you’d draw it up differently, 43 shots to 15, you hope to score [more]. We didn’t do well in the power play, but if you told me ‘coach, you got a win,’ I’m going to take the win.”
A quick goal, a big collapse, a great escape
Rider got off to a racing start with graduate student forward TJ Evan putting the Broncs ahead 1-0 just over three minutes into the game.
After Evan’s goal, the Broncs continued to pepper the Montclair State net with shots, but were unable to extend the lead in the remainder of the first or in the second period.
Then, with 15:30 remaining in regulation, junior forward Mark McDermitt had a huge moment in his debut as a Bronc. Using crafty stickwork to bypass the Red Hawk defense, McDermitt flicked the puck past the Montclair State goalie and into the roof of the net to give the Broncs a two-goal lead.
But as quick as Rider went up 2-0, the lead dissipated.
Barely a minute after McDermitt’s goal, Montclair responded with a power play goal, and then with 5:46 remaining on the clock, the Red Hawks knotted up the score at Ice Land Skating Rink.
“It is what it is; it’s hockey. We didn’t really respond as well as I would have really liked — obviously we gave up the second goal to tie it up, but hopefully this is a teachable moment, an opportunity to really learn,” Levin said.
With the game once again even on the scoreboard, neither team was able to pull ahead in regulation, meaning a three-on-three overtime period was ahead.
A hair over a minute into the overtime period, junior forward CJ Perkins rushed the net, but was turned away by the Montclair State goalkeeper. Behind the net to receive the puck was forward Cole Schneider. The sophomore, who scored his first collegiate goal against Montclair State almost a year earlier, secured a victory over them, swiftly tucking the puck in for the goal.
“It’s always a great feeling putting in game-winners,” Schneider said with a smile after the game.
A recipe for success
Along with McDermitt’s goal, the season opener was the first chance for a number of new Broncs to make an impression, including Shawn Mika. The freshman goaltender got the start against Montclair, and outside of the two third period goals, was stout for the entirety of the game.
“It was a fun experience. A lot quicker, a lot more physical than what I’m used to, but it was fun to be out there on the ice,” Mika said.
Mika made 13 saves, and despite his stats not being overwhelmingly impressive, he walked away from his college debut with a victory and was a stable force in the net for Rider in some crucial moments, impressing his coach in the process.
“It was his first game, [he] probably had some jitters. He’s played a lot of hockey in his life, but he made a couple of good saves,” Levin said. “When we started to get lazy defensively, he made a couple of good saves for us. He wasn’t tested maybe as much as other games, but he made some timely saves and got the win.”
With contributions from new faces like Mika, McDermitt and freshman defenseman Austin Sperduto, who had an assist in his first college game, complementing the standout and reliable play of Rider’s more established faces like Evan or Schneider, the Broncs may have already found its recipe for success this season.
“We’re a young team, but with some good crafty leadership. We get that together with some timely goaltending and the power play can get wrapped up, we’re going to be a good team,” Levin said.
Both of Rider Ice Hockey’s next two games have been postponed, according to the team.
Carolo Pascale, sports editor of The Rider News, works closely with the hockey team and had no part in the editing or writing of this story.