The Rider ice hockey team pulled off a stunning 5-4 upset of previously undefeated Wagner College in a Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association (MACHA) game on Friday, Feb. 6.
Thanks to an impressive performance by senior goalie Bobby Kovarovic, who blocked 55 out of 59 Wagner shots on goal, the Broncs were able to build and then hang on to a slim one-point lead for the last seven minutes of the contest.
“Bobby has played solid for us all year, but any time a team fires 50-plus shots at your goaltender and you win the game, he obviously was doing something right,” said junior forward Tom D’Aurizio. “Without Bobby in net in the game versus Wagner, we don’t come close to winning it. It was easily his best game he has ever played. Great players shine when it counts, and Bobby was nothing short of spectacular.”
After falling to the Seahawks 16-3 earlier in the season in a game where Wagner had twice as many shots on goal as the Broncs, this matchup was looking like more of the same by the end of the first period, as Wagner led 2-0 with 19 shots on goal to Rider’s five.
“Coming out of the period only 2-0 was kind of a good feeling as is,” said senior defender and team captain Jim Fritz. “Playing against Wagner, which is one of the top five in the nation, we knew the score could’ve been a lot worse. We knew what we had to do, and we played them well.”
Freshman forward Andrew Michael took only three minutes to get the Broncs on the board in the second period, and senior forward Merlin Thompson tied the game with his ninth goal of the season with 4:26 left in the frame.
The third period began with Michael scoring his second goal of the game at 14:26, and junior forward Nick Savaiano gave the Broncs a two-point lead just over a minute later off an assist from Thompson.
“Obviously, you always want to believe you can win any game,” D’Aurizio said. “When we tied it up at 2-2 and then took the lead early in the third period, we really started to believe in our team and that we could beat them.”
But they weren’t out of the woods yet. Wagner’s MACHA All-Star forward Nick Benedetto netted the second of his three goals in the game, shrinking the Rider lead to one, but D’Aurizio took a Thompson pass and made it count with just under seven minutes remaining in the game to regain Rider’s breathing room.
The Broncs had a scare with one minute left to go when Benedetto completed his hat trick, but were able to hang on and secure what was arguably their biggest win of the year against a team that has scored 142 goals this season for an average of almost nine per game.
“[Wagner] may have the best offense in the entire nation along with a very solid defense,” D’Aurizio said. “Once we took the lead we wanted to keep it. We didn’t want to take chances and have it cost us goals.”
With the win over Wagner, the Broncs qualified for the 2009 MACHA Playoffs as the fourth or fifth seed, depending on the outcome of their game tonight against The College of New Jersey (TCNJ).
TCNJ won the previous meeting this season, 8-2. The game is at 9 p.m. at the Loucks Ice Center, which both the Broncs and Lions call home ice.
“I think the fans are going to love the game [tonight],” Fritz said. “We know we are already playing TCNJ in the playoffs and now it is just a factor of who the home team is. We are well-matched and owe them some payback from earlier in the season.”
The Broncs then close out the regular season against the Scranton at home before their first-round playoff game against TCNJ on Friday, Feb. 20 at 9:15 p.m. at Loucks.
The entirety of the 2009 MACHA Playoffs will be played at Loucks Ice Center.