Johnson scores hat trick in victory over West Chester

Junior forward Nicholas Leelum loads up to blast a slap shot on goal.

By Rob Rose 

Senior forward Chris Johnson recorded a hat trick in the ice hockey team’s 9-4 victory over West Chester on Nov. 12. The Broncs split a pair of games last weekend, also losing to Marist, 3-2.

After a difficult loss to Liberty last week, Rider took the ice looking to get back in the win column against Marist on Nov. 10.

This was the third consecutive start for junior goalie Angelo Perri, who has become the go-to guy in net for the Broncs this season.

The first period of the game saw Rider create multiple scoring chances, but fail to find the back of the net. After one period, the game was scoreless.

Midway through the second period, Rider scored first when senior defenseman JJ Santagata netted a slap shot from the point, assisted by Johnson. Heading into the third period, the Broncs led 1-0.

Rider continued to dominate the game and carried that momentum into the third period. Marist struggled to create shots on goal and when it did, they were easily saved by Perri.

In the third period, the Broncs added to their lead with a highlight-reel goal by Johnson. With a two-man advantage on the power play, junior forward Nicholas Leelum passed to Johnson who was able to rip a slap shot into the top corner of the net, giving Rider a 2-0 edge.

The momentum of the game flipped following that goal by Johnson, as Marist mounted its comeback.

“We scored early on the power play but we immediately lost focus and figured Marist would fold. Marist began to push back and we let them dictate the play. Once they scored their first goal, we lost all the momentum,” said Head Coach Sean Levin.

With the game seemingly in hand, Marist forward Kenny Nyguard skated into the Rider zone and sent a shot over the shoulder of Perri that sent his water bottle atop the net flying.

Only 77 seconds later, the Red Foxes scored again after a faceoff win in the Broncs’ zone. A quick shot off the draw snuck past Perri, and as he attempted to cover up the puck, it slid into the back of the net.

As the horn sounded at the end of regulation, the score was tied 2-2 sending the teams to overtime.

Much like the end of the third period, overtime was controlled by the Red Foxes. Marist scored the game-winning goal with just over a minute left.

“We got caught puck-watching on their overtime goal. Overall, our third [period] and overtime performance was embarrassing,” said Levin.

On Nov. 12, Rider headed to West Chester to face off against the Golden Rams.

A back-and-forth game throughout saw the Broncs leading 4-3 after two periods. Goals scored by Johnson and Leelum helped Rider gain the lead entering the game’s final period.

Two minutes into the third period, West Chester tied the game at four goals. Five minutes later, senior forward Eric Bozzi put the Broncs back on top.

Johnson added his second goal of the game, putting Rider up 6-4. Moments later, a Golden Rams player was tossed from the game after hitting Leelum in the back of the head.

On the ensuing power play, junior forward Jake Lukis scored on a rebound off a shot by Santagata. After another Rider goal, Johnson finished off the hat trick as the Broncs closed out the 9-4 victory.

“I have really been trying to step up my level of play the past couple games, so it was really reassuring to net three goals against West Chester,” said Johnson.

The three goals increased Johnson’s team-leading total for the season to 12. Last season, Johnson led the team with 25 goals and is the focal point of the Rider offense.

“Chris is an exceptional player. He possesses a unique skill set that combines speed, skill, strength, and a competitive edge that most players in the ACHA do not have. He demands a lot of attention from our opponents which often leaves his teammates open for scoring chances,” said Levin.

The Broncs’ record is now 8-7 this season. A road game at Delaware on Nov. 17. is up next for Rider, followed by a trip to Maryland for a rematch with the Terrapins on Nov. 18.

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