The West Chester men’s hockey team cruised to a 5-1 victory over Towson on Friday, due to a steady performance in all facets of the game.
The Rams provided a balanced offensive attack, mixed with disciplined physicality throughout the entire game. Towson came out aggressive, but WCU matched that aggression and used it to fuel the offense and the stellar defense for three full periods.
After a scoreless first, an early goal from assistant captain Tim Higgins set the tone early in the second.
“It was nice to get that early goal and continue putting the puck on net,” head coach Marl Gonsalves said. “To have that lead gave us a little breathing room and that is always nice.”
The Rams sustained a crisp forecheck throughout most of the period and created much more breathing room in the second period.
Forward Matt Sklodowski scored in the middle of the period and Chris Tamminga added a goal at the 15-minute mark to give the rams a three-goal cushion going into the final period.
The third was much of the same. Higgins added his second goal of the game early on, and Sklodowski netted his second on a power play late in the period. Higgins second goal gave him seven on the season, edging out captain Steve Meade for the most on the team.
Sklodowski’s pair of goals were his second and third. He played a physical game and showed that he not only wanted the puck, but could finish if he got it.
“That’s what I’m trying to get out of him I want him to be an offensive force,” Gonsalves said. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got the tools and if takes it on his shoulders he can out the puck in at will and that’s what he did tonight.”
Part of what drove the offense was the simplifying of the game. They avoided the streatch passes, used the boards, and took the shots when they were there.
“It’s still a work in progress but they are getting better. They kept the hockey simple, didn’t over handle the puck and they are really coming along,” Gonsalves said.
The offense was not the only deciding factor in the game, however. Goalie Randy Japchen faced 32 shots and steered away all but one. He faced several breakaways and odd man rushes but was able to keep the Towson scorers at bay. The only goal he gave up was a power play goal with just five minutes left in the game, when the Rams had already secured a healthy lead.
The gritty defense contributed to the lack of Towson offense just as much as Japchen’s brilliance. West Chester’s penalty kill was positioned correctly and was effective at nullifying the man advantage.
“We did much better on the penalty kill,” Gonsalves said. “It’s a mindset. You gave to be disciplined, you have to be willing to outwork the other team and you have to be you have to be willing to sacrifice the body and these guys really stepped up.”
The first period may have started out slow, with West Chester getting hit around and outshot 14-8, but the final two periods could not have been more different. A flurry of crushing hits, crisp passes and quality shots set the Rams apart from their counterparts and led them to a convincing victory.
There was hardly any criticism one could give. Gonsalves spent only a minute in the locker room, just enough time to tell the player that the win was well deserved and that similar intensity should be present at all games.
Impressively, they managed the win without two players that have seen a lot of ice time and been integral parts of the team the last several years. Chris Gentile was unable to play due to suspension and senior Adam Ball injured his hand in the series against Rhode Island two weeks ago.
“I went onto the boards weird and broke the tip of my thumb completely across,” Ball said. “I’m out for three to four weeks.”
But despite some of the keystones that are missing, the Rams have been getting a great effort from the replacements. It’s a testament to the depth of talent on the team.
“I have a rookie filling in for where Gentile would have been, [James] Davis, who has really stepped up as a rookie,” Gonsalves said. “He’s got a great attitude, great work ethic and when he’s out there he is a banger and makes things happen. And we have Ball out and we have another rookie that’s been in the lineup, Jensen, and he’s stepping up and filling the role nicely.”
The Rams also won their road game against Towson 7-6 in a shootout, giving them their first weekend sweep of the year and improving their record to 5-4-1. The Rams hit the road for seven straight games before returning home Nov. 30 for a weekend series against Stony Brook.
Kenny Ayres is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a journalism minor. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.