By Trey Wright
Following a Jan. 28 overtime loss to Stevenson, Rider club ice hockey looked to get back into a groove entering the final stretch before the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association (MACH) playoffs, doing so by defeating conference rivals Delaware on Feb. 4 and Maryland on Feb. 5.
The weekend began with the Broncs searching for redemption against the University of Delaware Blue Hens after losing 5-0 to them earlier this season.
Rider got thirteen goals worth of redemption.
The first came when freshman winger Joey Cole got the Broncs on the board midway through the first period, with an assist from senior winger Chris Walako. The same connection struck again two minutes later.
Sophomore center CJ Perkins put the third puck in the net with 46 seconds remaining in the first frame with assists from graduate student defenseman Michael Jinks and junior winger DJ Sucher.
“[The team] spoke about a week ago and about how we lost our identity,” Head Coach Sean Levin said. “The big focus is keeping it simple, playing a simple game.”
The second period was a scoring derby for Rider. Cole scored his first collegiate hat trick less than five minutes into the period, and soon after Sucher netted his first of the game.
The Blue Hens solved senior goaltender Eric Lineman, making the score 5-1, midway through the period.
Senior winger TJ Evan responded after with a goal, getting the lead back to five.
A fight nearly broke out halfway through the period, when sophomore defenseman Nick Pedulla was sucker-punched by an opposing player after delivering a check, leading to the Blue Hen’s disqualification.
Afterward, Delaware was able to snipe another shot past Lineman, but Rider’s eighteen-wheeler filled with goals kept on trucking.
Sucher scored his second of the period with help from Coyne and Cole. Sophomore winger Dom Cerceo was buried in a rebound with assists by Evan and freshman center Cole Schneider.
Sophomore center Justin Rauch nailed a missile from the left circle to make the score 9-2 entering the second intermission, leaving the Blue Hens stunned.
The Broncs picked it right back up in the third period, with the Cole-Walako duo striking once again, this time Walako netting his first of the game with an assist from Cole.
The goal was Walako’s 100th point as a Bronc, with the four-year veteran receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.
“It feels good. I think my mom was looking forward to it more than I was,” Walako said with a chuckle. after the game. “But at the end of the day, it was very fun just beating them by a lot; that was the highlight of it.”
Cerceo added to the frenzy by netting two straight goals to achieve his first career collegiate hat trick as a Bronc.
“It definitely meant a lot, considering that we lost to them five-nothing last time,” said Cerceo, who leads the Broncs in goalscoring with 20 goals on the season. “It doesn’t matter who you get your first hat trick against, it’s going to be special.”
Walako netted the final Rider goal with an assist from senior defenseman Nick Ruggero. Delaware cut the score to a 10-goal deficit late in the game, but the Broncs crushed the Blue Hens 13-3, despite only taking 31 shots on goal.
“[Assistant] Coach Joe Roche and [Assistant] Coach Connor Fox, I gotta really tip my cap to the staff here,” said Levin. “From a head coaching standpoint, as much as the players performed, I have to really give a major shoutout to the coaching staff here.”
Aside from Walako’s four-point night, the match was in large part controlled by the underclassmen, combining for 13 points on the statsheet.
“When you get the contribution in February … where we need guys like Joey Cole, Dom Cerceo, Cole Schneider, CJ Perkins, and Justin Rauch to keep pulling that rope, it’s tremendous to see,” said Levin.
The game was not without a loss for Rider. Sophomore Anthony Zito left the game in the third period after delivering an awkward hit. Levin said he sustained a potential grade two AC sprain in his right shoulder.
With the large margin of victory over Delaware, many Rider fans thought the Feb. 5 match against Maryland could be similar, given that the Broncs had soundly defeated the Terrapins 6-2 in a matchup earlier in the season.
However, the game was much closer than anticipated with a scoreless first period for both teams and Rider putting nine shots on goal.
The Broncs were able to break the tie with 12:52 remaining in the second period, via a tic-tac-toe goal on a 3-on-1 by Perkins, assisted by Schneider and Cerceo.
The lead was short-lived as Maryland fired a shot past senior goaltender Adam Godfrey tying the game, remaining that way at the end of the second period.
The third period was the best of the game for the Broncs as they put 15 shots on the net, and Perkins buried his second goal of the game on a power play early in the third. The goal came off a rebound shot from Evan and was the game-winning goal.
“There was a bit more of a grinding mentality,” Levin said of the third period. “Getting away from being cute, making the perfect play like we saw against Delaware and just grinding out shifts.”
The Terps were unable to solve Godfrey again, giving Rider a 2-1 win, sweeping the season series against Maryland.
“Every team that comes in here is a good team, especially in our division,” said Godfrey, who made 20 saves on 21 shots, “… but at the end of the day, it’s just two points.”
Perkins, who started the season slow, has now scored five goals in the first six games of 2022, including three over the last two games.
“First semester was rough, but we’re getting into it,” said Perkins. “It’s a team effort, obviously me, Dom and Cole, and we’re just looking to keep it up.
“He started the season really finding his identity,” said Levin on Perkins. “One of the things that he did so well was controlling what he can control.
“He had his number called, and he hasn’t let go since,” Levin added.
The Broncs, now 16-3-2-1, will play their final home game of the regular season and celebrate Senior Night on Feb. 11 against West Chester at Ice Land Skating Center at 8 p.m.