Just a day after scoring five goals against Rutgers on the road, the offense fell silent for the Golden Rams hockey team as they dropped a sloppy 5-1 game at home, earning a split in the weekend series.
The Rams offense in the early part of the season has been streaky to say the least. They have had two five-goal games, but three games in which they could not net more than two goals. In each of those three games there has been a similar theme-lack of quality shots.
West Chester fired 36 shots on goal Saturday but many of them came from just inside the blue line. The ones that were taken from the slot and circles were fired right into the goalies pads.
The sloppiest offense came on a power play with the Rams down by one in the middle of the third. They had an opportunity to make a push and tie the game, and they could hardly get the puck out from behind their own net.
“Nothing went on [during the power play],” head coach Mark Gonsalves said. “We tried to rush it. We don’t settle it down, we don’t put the puck on net and we can’t finish. Part of the problem is the guys over-think the game, and we have to keep it simple.”
Neither the offense nor the defense were able to simplify the game. Wheras the offense was holding on to the puck and trying to make the extra move, the defenders were trying for the big pass instead of the smart pass.
“We need to make the simple passes and stop looking for plays when they aren’t there,” junior defenseman Mike Ahle said. “It is one thing to make the long pass if [the play] is there and you have the ability, but we seem to be forcing plays that aren’t there.”
Perhaps the most costly play of the game was on what could have been an easy clear. Early in the third period defenseman Gordon Nicholson went back to retrieve a puck behind the net uncontested, and from the right wing corner he attempted to pass through the slot to a forward on the left-side boards. Rutgers’ Matt Ruthberg intercepted the pass and beat Japchen for what was ultimately the winning goal. It was a rare yet costly slip-up for the usually sound Nicholson.
“We are making bad decisions,” Gonsalves said. “We like to make those long distance passes through the slot, and we are not outletting and using the glass or boards if there’s nobody there [to pass to],” Gonsalves said.
Penalties were also a factor, but not for obvious reasons. Although the Rams played a man down several times-including three times in the second period-their penalty kill was perfect. It was the offsetting roughing minors and retaliatory penalties that seemed to disrupt West Chester’s game. It was exactly what Rutgers wanted to happen.
“Part of it was retribution from Friday night,” Japchen said. “We marched them to the box for the majority of the night and kept our penalties down and we won. We didn’t want the win enough today. Unfortunately we fed into their act, myself included, and it hurt us in the end.”
Perhaps the only bright spots in the game for West Chester was the play of Japchen and Steve Meade.
Japchen made 38 saves on 40 shots as he continues to keep the Rams in every game. The final two goals for Rutgers came after he had been pulled in the final minutes of the third. The two he let in were hardly his fault. One was a result of the defensive zone turnover, and the other was not a direct shot.
“It hit my pants and was deflected,” Ahle said. It’s not his fault, only two goals against should win a game. No questions.”
The captain’s performance also stood out. After scoring two goals in Friday’s win, Meade netted yet another goal on Saturday. He now has six goals in six games this season, which leads the team by far. Tim Higgins, Chris Tamminga and Matt O’Brien are tied for second with two apiece.
“Meade has been absolutely great so far,” Japchen said. “At the beginning of the season we all discussed our roles and what we need to do to win and we said he’s our goal scorer. He has really been performing his role on our team.”
He is going to need some help though as West Chester moves into what is arguably the toughest part of their schedule. Next weekend they play two games against perennial powerhouse Rhode Island, then return home for one home game before spending eight in a row on the road. They can ill afford to be swept by Rhode Island before going into that road stretch.
“We have to win in everybody’s barn and we have to come to battle,” Gonsalves said. “If these guys desire to be back up into the top 15 or 20, they can’t play like this. Rhode Island is a huge two-game series and from there it just gets harder and harder and the journey gets more difficult. We’ll soon see what these guys are made of.”
Kenny Ayres is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a journalism minor. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.