Ever since the initial drop of the puck this season, the WCU Golden Rams’ hockey team has searched for balanced scoring to complement their top snipers Jim Gehring and Pat Johnson, who are respectively #1 and #2 in scoring in the country. Gehring recently broke the WCU single season points record against Drexel, and he and Johnson will likely be entrenched in a dogfight down the stretch to see who ends up with the record in the end. However, for much of the season, it has appeared as if that top line was the only one who could light the lamp on a nightly basis.
However, the winds of change may be upon us. Starting with a split last week against #5 Liberty, the team has seen other players besides the usual suspects start to show up on the scoresheet. Senior Tom Waite, a player who has struggled to find his niche this season, had a goal in both games against Liberty, and has appeared much more aggressive. Junior forward Drew Mervin has seen his ice time increase as a direct result of seeing his production go up. However, this weekend’s series against Drexel may have been the coming out party of the entire team.
Faced with the inenviable task of playing three games in three days this weekend, two of which were against bitter rival Drexel, the Rams looked to some different sources of scoring, and it paid off. Besides riding Gehring and Johnson’s usual superhuman efforts, the Rams saw goals coming from almost everyone as they absolutely annihilated Drexel by the scores of 12-3 and 10-0. Senior forward Kenny Bergeron scored twice against the Dragons, and sophomore Jeff Shockley scored his first three career goals in the Saturday tilt.
“It felt great to finally get the monkey off of my back,” said Shockley.
The Rams also got contributions from junior Robert Bushman, sophomore Jon Hendricks and sophomore Mike Longo, amongst others. This is exactly what the team needs as they will try to navigate a tough schedule littered with potential trap games. Heading into Sunday’s game against Duquesne, the Rams have eight more games left before the post-season begins.
Of those eight games, seven come against teams currently ranked in the top 25, including a physically demanding three game set next weekend against #28 Navy, #13 West Virginia, and #15 Stony Brook.
Sunday’s game against Stony Brook will decide the conference’s regular season championship in addition to determining which of the two ECHA powerhouses will clinch the league’s automatic bid to the national tournament.
Several WCU records are in dangerous peril of being shattered. Both Gehring and Johnson will end up breaking the old WCU record for points of 70 set in 2002-03 by Josh Leachey. In addition, Gehring will end up breaking his own record of 37 for most goals in a season, and both Johnson and Gehring could end up breaking the assists record of 39 set in 1994-95 by Andy Fidler. These two could also end up breaking the records for most hat tricks in a season, power play goals in a season, plus minus ratio, and Gehring is a sure bet to annihilate Bob Kenworthy’s year old record for most shots in a season. Kenworthy set the mark with 200 shots on target, and Gehring should easily clear that mark.
However, the most important records that could be set by this special team are both team records. Last year’s team went 25-9-0, setting WCU records for most wins in a season and also saw the team’s highest ever finish in the polls at the end of the season at #7. Those polls were released after the Rams went to the national tournament and upset then #6 Iowa State before succumbing to Illinois. The Rams could finish the regular season with 27 wins, assuming they run the table before playoffs. The ECHA tournament and the national tournament will give the team a chance at 30 wins, a rare feat accomplished by only the elite teams in the ACHA.
Of the remaining regular season games, next weekend’s three game set against Navy, WVU and Stony Brook provides the best chance for the Rams to get upended, but that’s not likely to happen. Navy will provide a tough match-up, less in terms of skill but more in terms of overall physicality. WVU has struggled mightily against the Rams in the past few seasons, and a look at their schedule suggests that the Mountaineers may be a bit overrated. The Mountaineers really only have two signature wins this season, against Central Oklahoma and Ohio, though Ohio already has 10 losses and could also make a case for being overrated. Heading into the big Sunday game, the Rams could be a bit tired from the previous two games, but nonetheless, expect them to sweep next weekend and clinch the conference.
One of the main goals of the team was to run through the conference schedule unscathed, and they are in prime position to do so. At 9-0 in ECHA play, the Rams have never really been tested except in games against Stony Brook and surprisingly, a home game against Villanova where they prevailed 4-3 in a shootout.
However, this time Stony Brook must come to Iceline Arena, where the Golden Rams rarely lose. The Golden Rams are 9-1 at home this season and have a mere six home losses in the past three seasons. Look for them to continue that streak and win their second straight regular season ECHA title.
Matt Chandik is a third-year undecided student. He can be reached at MC618553@wcupa.edu