By Jake Tiger
Having lost four consecutive games, a 3-6 Rider club ice hockey team went into another two-game weekend feeling desperate and frustrated.
After some soul searching in their first game, the Broncs came to life, snagging victories against both the Red Foxes and Red Hawks to curtail their slide.
‘Compete for each other’
In the midst of a four-game losing streak, Rider hosted the Marist Red Foxes on Nov. 4 with hopes of turning its season around. However, against an opponent it bested 4-0 last year, Rider continued its losing ways for much of the game, playing sloppy, impatient hockey.
Fortunately for the Broncs, they made a late push off the back of two goals from junior forward Anthony Zito, and in overtime, freshman forward Aaron Pape secured the 3-2 comeback with the game-winner.
“We saw that we definitely were the better team in terms of talent, but we weren’t the better team in terms of cohesiveness, and that’s a struggle,” said Head Coach Sean Levin. “One of the big mindsets that we really preach… is to compete for each other, not with each other, and I think we did a lot of competing with each other tonight.”
For most of the contest, Levin hollered from the bench, urging his men to communicate more. In reality, the Broncs were doing plenty of communicating with each other, only it was in the form of arguing.
The dysfunction allowed Marist to take the lead midway through the second period, as the Broncs failed to get anything of their own going offensively.
“Just as a whole, we weren’t playing our game,” said freshman forward Aaron Pape. “We were playing down to them, but towards the end of the third we started to come together.”
With just over seven minutes left in the game, Zito, who was scoreless on the season, hopped on to the ice for sophomore forward Cole Schneider.
Thirty-five seconds later, a stolen puck deep in Red Fox territory gave Zito a one-on-one opportunity.
Gliding in, Zito threw a fake to his right. The goalie bit and widened his stance. Zito pulled the puck back, slicing it through the five-hole and into the twine to knot the game at 1-1.
“We’d been shooting all game and we just couldn’t connect,” said Zito. “I just had the confidence, and I got the opportunity to come in on a breakaway. It kind of gave us a jump.”
Zito’s first goal of the season could not have been more timely, as it lifted the Broncs out of their lethargic funk and charged the team with an energy that had previously been missing.
Not even two minutes later, senior defenseman Eddie Coyne came crashing down on the left side of the goal and had a good look at the net. Instead, he opted for the extra pass to Zito who only had to tap the puck in to suddenly put Rider up 2-1.
While the Broncs thrived on offense, their defense was still fallible. With 2.4 seconds left, the equalizer slipped by freshman goalie Shawn Mika, and the Red Foxes sent the game to overtime with a score of 2-2.
Four minutes into the overtime period, Pape squeezed in a shot from the bottom of the left circle to ice the Red Foxes and Rider’s four-game losing streak.
“We still have a lot to really improve on before we even consider ourselves a team that can be competing in the Southeast [division],” said Levin. “We have a lot to work on, but I’m happy for the boys.”
Broncs of prey
After their completed comeback effort against Marist, the Broncs traveled to Montclair State on Nov. 5 for a bout with the Red Hawks.
With lessons learned from their game the day before, Rider cruised to a 4-1 win over Montclair State behind a strong performance from Mika, and goals from four different players.
“I think it was, it was an understanding that the scoring changes are going to come when we play a team game,” said Levin. “Tonight, we really buckled down on doing some simple things.”
Coyne got the Broncs on the board 10 minutes into the opening period, scoring on a shot that he lobbed all the way from Montclair’s blue line.
While primarily anchoring the Rider defense, Coyne has been essential all over the ice. The senior leads the Broncs in points (12) and assists (8).
“[Coyne’s] been kind of our quiet calming factor,” said Levin. “On the back end, he logs a ton of minutes. … The game is slow for him. Sometimes we want to see Eddie’s intensity pick up, but it’s ironic when you think about it… he’s playing very intensely, but he’s so calm with the puck that it comes off as he’s not… and it does allow him to make those cute plays.”
The Red Hawks did get by Mika in the second period with a well-placed shot, but the Broncs were quick to respond. Schneider and junior forward Mark McDermitt scored within five minutes of each other, sending Rider into the third with a 3-1 lead.
Last to the party was Pape, who scored on back-to-back nights to wrap up the Broncs’ fruitful weekend.
Having improved to 5-6, Rider will confront much-anticipated dates with Penn State on Nov. 11 and the University of Delaware on Nov. 12. The Penn State game begins at 8 p.m. and will be streamed on Twitch.