Roughly six weeks ago, Stony Brook University beat West Chester 7-6 in a shootout and snapped WCU’s 21-game ECHA in-conference winning streak. The loss appeared to serve notice to the league that this was no longer a one-pony show.Order was restored last Saturday during the ECHA Championship game as WCU blew the doors off of a stunned SBU team by an 11-3 margin. Pat Johnson had a goal and three assists and linemate Jim Gehring added a goal and two assists to lead the Golden Rams to their second straight ECHA playoff title.
“It’s a great way to go into Nationals, for sure,” Johnson said.
Johnson got the party started early as he took a feed from Gehring and snuck a shot past all-ECHA First Team goaltender Derek Stevens to give WCU an early lead. Robert Bushman made it 2-0 a few minutes later as his seeing-eye shot made its way past Stevens.
Bushman’s goal left Stony Brook reeling, and then Ted Gilbert knocked them to the ground as his shot deflected off of a SBU player’s stick and into the net to make it 3-0. WCU headed into the intermission with that same commanding 3-0 lead. Goaltender Corey Hackney made several key stops in the first period to keep SBU off the scoreboard.
WCU kept their foot on the gas in the second period. They made it 4-0 when the always dangerous power play unit struck. Mike Longo made a nice pass to Pat Johnson, who deftly slid the puck to Gehring who in turn ripped a shot high over Stevens’ blocker for the goal.
At this point, it was evident to all in attendance that this was WCU’s day to shine. Hackney made numerous saves to stymie SBU, leading the Seawolves to be increasingly more frustrated. WCU took advantage of that frustration with a pair of power play goals just minutes apart from Chris Campli and Steve Jones. The Gehring-Johnson duo struck again before the second intermission as Gehring avoided a pair of SBU defenders and made a gorgeous pass to Johnson, who made no mistake with the puck and made it 8-1.
Dave Bixler padded WCU’s lead to 9-1 to start the third stanza with his second goal of the game. Longo and Tom Scocozza capped off WCU’s scoring in a chippy third period. Stony Brook scored a pair of late goals to bring it a bit closer, but in the end, WCU was just too strong and walked away with the championship.
“That felt really good after they beat us in the shootout,” Johnson said. “That was easily the best game that we’ve played since the [Dec. 5-6] Penn State weekend.”
“Coming off that shootout loss, we knew that we had to dominate from start to finish. It’s very comforting to see us play so well as we head into Nationals,” Gehring echoed Johnson’s sentiments.
The ECHA announced a plethora of awards after the game. The Golden Rams placed six players on the regular-season All-ECHA teams and also placed five players on the All-Tournament team. Bushman, goaltender Ryan Fenyves and defenseman Chris Orlando, all seniors, were named to the All-ECHA Second Team, while Gehring, Johnson and Jones were the three Golden Rams named to the All-ECHA First Team.
Gehring, Johnson, Hackney, Jones and forward Joe Mango represented WCU on the All-Tournament Team. Gehring then finished up his hardware haul with his second straight ECHA MVP award. Hackney, overlooked all year by All-Star voters, showed that he was the ECHA’s elite goaltender.
“It’s great to see Corey play so well,” Johnson said. “He always plays great in big games. I mean, he’s done it for us for the past three years.”
“I thought Corey was excellent,” Gehring said. “Our depth was also key to the win. Bushman’s line was huge and everyone played so well. We need that kind of depth to make a run at Nationals.”
The Golden Rams’ championship will be their final ECHA championship as they will be leaving the league next year for the much more competitive Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League. WCU will face much stiffer competition in the ESCHL as they will be facing the likes of Penn State, Rhode Island, Delaware, Navy and Drexel.
WCU then headed up to Cleveland, Ohio this weekend for the ACHA National Tournament. With a recent slide in the national polls, the Golden Rams found themselves as the No. 11 seed in the tournament and facing the No. 6 team in the country, the Iowa State Cyclones. The two teams had previously dueled at the Navy Thanksgiving Tournament where ISU destroyed WCU by a 7-1 mark.
However, WCU turned the tides on the Cyclones in this game and upset the Central States Collegiate Hockey League representative 4-2. Gehring’s words from after the ECHA title win seemed prophetic for this game, as goals from Campli, Longo, Drew Mervin and Jesse Petrillo made the difference.
While the Gehring-Johnson duo was shut down by ISU, the rest of the team stepped up to make plays. Petrillo had three career goals before the ISU game but came through with a goal. Mervin, who had struggled all season as he scored only one goal, came up with a big goal. Hackney was tremendous yet again as he was able to keep ISU’s high-powered attack at bay.
The Golden Rams will now take on a very familiar foe on Sunday morning in the ACHA’s version of the Elite Eight. The University of Delaware Blue Hens, 4-3 winners over Stony Brook in the opening round, will do battle with the Golden Rams for the right to go on to the ACHA Frozen Four. A win over Delaware would clinch the highest finish in WCU history and could also set the stage for another first in school history.a national championship.
Matt Chandik is a fourth-year student majoring in Spanish with a minor in Journalism. He can be reached at MC618553@wcupa.edu.