The West Chester University Division I club hockey team swept a two game series at home against University of Rhode Island on Friday and Saturday.
The Golden Rams have not taken two games at home against Rhode Island since Oct. 24 and 25, 2008. That was the year they went all the way to the ACHA DI Final Four.
West Chester outplayed URI in almost every category, but the Golden Rams’ defense really stuck out in this game.
URI is a dangerous offensive team. They outscored WCU 22-8 in the four regular season games last season, and beat them 9-0 and 6-4 on WCU’s home ice.
This series was a complete turnaround. West Chester held Rhode Island to just three goals in the two games. None of those goals came on the power play.
Shot blocking was at a premium during the series as West Chester clogged the shooting lanes and kept a number of shots from even coming close to the net. Almost all of the shots that found their way through were handled by Randy Japchen, who carried a shutout into the third period of both games.
Head coach Shawn Dorsey was pleased with his team’s effort to stop shots before they reached the goalie.
“Shot blocking is something that we’ve talked about a lot from day one. It is a huge part of the game, and it is a huge part of our defensive philosophy,” Dorsey said. “We had tons of blocked shots last night, and as a coach, it is something that really makes you proud because it shows the commitment to your teammates and the ultimate goal.” Jimmy McKee, Adam Ball, and Tim Margadonna all had a number of blocked shots as forwards.
On the other end of the ice, WCU worked great fore checks and got a lot of shots on goal. Their pressure was pretty consistent throughout both games, as they scored once in each of the six periods of the weekend.
The first game began with both teams playing aggressive, physical hockey. Six minutes in, Tom Scocozza opened scoring on a feed from Matt O’Brien. It was just Scocozza’s second goal of the season and the start of a strong weekend from the senior captain.
URI had their chances to score on a power play late in the first but a slid penalty kill kept the URI Rams off the board.
West Chester came out strong early in the second period and scored just two minutes in.
Steve Meade received a pass below the goal line and fired at the back of the goalies’ pads. The puck rebounded off the goalie and into the net. The goal was Meade’s team leading 11th goal of the season.
Once again, WCU held the strong URI offense in check. Matt Feeney, Jeff Dugan, Bill Pellegrino and Bob McInerny cleared the URI forwards from the crease and the rest of the defenders and forwards were getting down to block every shot that was taken.
Although URI was not scoring, they were playing physical yet disciplined hockey, taking no penalties through the first two periods.
Both teams became a little heated in the third period. There were a handful of roughing and interference penalties but neither team had a power play goal to show for it.
Tim Higgins scored WCU’s third and final goal about halfway through the period. He stripped the puck right from the URI defender’s stick and charged down the ice. The defender caught up but Higgins held him off with one hand and controlled the puck in the other. He cut right in front of the net and put the puck through the goalies pads.
Higgins’ determination on the play is what stuck out to Dorsey. “The play he made on his goal was all grit and perseverance, which was huge. He’s an excellent two-way player and we need him to be effective like he was last night.”
URI scored twice in the third but could not catch up. Cameron Schneck found the net on a high-slot writer halfway through the period and Dan Lassick scored with just 11 seconds left in the game.
West Chester took the game by a score of 3-2, but lost two players to injury during the contest.
Chris Gentile suffered a dislocated shoulder and there is no timetable for his return. McInerny left the game after being shaken up on a collision and remains day to day with head and neck soreness.
Dorsey was pleased with the team’s performance in Friday’s game, but he knew it was not going to get easier the next day.
“I thought last night’s game was the best game we’ve played thus far. URI is a perennial powerhouse, so that is a huge win. But the real test is carrying that momentum into Saturday’s game, and playing with that intensity on a consistent basis,” Dorsey said.
West Chester had no trouble carrying the consistency to Saturday.
The second game was, in all essence, a continuation of the first. Both teams were playing physical hockey but WCU was playing a grittier game.
URI had trouble controlling the puck early and WCU took advantage. Meade took control of the puck near center ice skated directly toward the net. When he realized he did not have a clear shot, he spun around with the puck and fired a backhand pass in one motion. Scocozza caught the feed and scored is second goal of the series.
WCU would surely be happy to see Scocozza get hot, but they know he is effective regardless of whether he scores.
“Goals help in any scenario but he does a lot of great things on the ice that may not always be recognized. I know he’s good at feeding the puck and that helps a lot too,” Higgins said.
In the second period, West Chester stepped up their game even further. Japchen made key saves on URI breakaways, and on defense all five skaters kept up the strong hits and clean stick checks in addition to blocking shots.
Less than a minute into the period, Adam Ball centered a pass from behind the net to Harrison Welch, who scored to give WCU a 2-0 lead.
After two periods, West Chester more than doubled URI in shots, 31-16.
Once again, the third period was filled with penalties from both teams, and for the first time in two games, a power play goal was scored.
West Chester set up in the URI zone and Matt Feeney wristed a shot through from the left circle that beat the URI goaltender. It was Feeney’s first goal of the season and it capped off a strong night from the big defenseman.
Lassick tallied a power play goal of his own for URI late in the period, but they could not come back and dropped the contest by a final score of 3-1.
“The bar has been set, so what we saw this weekend, is what we’re looking for every night,” Dorsey said.
West Chester will hit the road next Friday where they will play their only game of the weekend against top ranked Penn State.
“They very well may be the best ACHA team ever. If we’re going to play with them, we have to play hard and smart and stick to the game plan,” Dorsey said.
Kenny Ayres is a second-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.