Prior to the season, the thought of West Chester hockey making school history and the second round in the ACHA national tournament (ranked seventh in the nation) would have been more than a worthy goal to reach for. But after a gallant defeat at the hands of a talented University of Illinois team in the second round, the West Chester Golden Rams left the tournament with a bitter taste, as they had their sights set on the larger goal; bringing home the school’s first national hockey championship. On Wednesday, West Chester went into the first round match up as an underdog against the thriving sixth ranked Iowa State Cyclones. Entering the tournament Iowa had won nine straight including the CSCHL conference tournament. Riding solid goaltending from freshman Corey Hackney, who made 40 saves, along with the firepower of Jim Gehring and Pat Johnson, who scored two goals each, the Golden Rams stunned Iowa and sent them home shockingly early by a score of 6-3.
With an opportunity to join the final four, the Golden Rams were underdogs again. This time they had the daunting task of going through another CSCHL heavyweight, the number three ranked University of Illinois.
Illinois limped into the ACHA tournament after failing to win the CSCHL conference championship, despite being the number one seed. Yet they reversed their recent woeful play quickly in the first round of the tournament, trouncing 14-seed Washington and Jefferson University 5-0.
On Thursday, the ‘David versus Goliath’ game was underway. Halfway into the first period, Illinois struck with a goal from Nick Fabbrini. Their lead however did not last long as it was quickly equalized by a goal from West Chester’s Jim Gehring, ending the first period with the score 1-1. In the second period, Illinois scored two quick goals, putting the Golden Rams on the ropes. Yet a clutch goal from Ed Devine six minutes later swung the momentum in West Chester’s favor as they began to apply the pressure on the speedy Illini.
With five minutes left in the second period, West Chester gave up a devastating goal to Illinois’ Alex Park, elevating the score to 4-2, and dimming the lights on the Golden Ram’s season.
Instead of caving in to the pressure of being down two goals to one of the best teams in the nation, West Chester reacted. Only five minutes into the third period West Chester’s Robert Bushman scored to put the Golden Rams back in the drivers seat and only one goal from tying the game. Illinois had other plans as they used their superior speed and offensive prowess to swarm West Chester goalie Corey Hackney. Adding goal after goal, the Illini relentlessly attacked, making the final score a lopsided 8-3, finally putting to sleep what was an amazing West Chester season.
What may be the most discouraging part about the loss to the University of Illinois was the fact that the other teams to reach the final four were Penn State University, the University of Delaware and Oakland University. West Chester has wins against Penn State and Delaware in the regular season, and Oakland is only ranked tenth in the tournament. Oakland is just an average team playing above their level, and could have fallen prey to a high caliber West Chester squad.
Despite the loss being extremely disappointing to the high reaching Golden Ram players, there is nothing disappointing about their record breaking season. Defeating the giants of the ACHA and proving to the rest of the country that West Chester hockey is a team to be reckoned with in the future. This amazing year was just the beginning.