Fresh off the heels of a pair of 9-2 drubbings of ECHA conference foe Towson, the West Chester University Hockey Team heads into the semester break ranked #10 in the country and on a two game winning streak.The Rams are currently sporting a 15-4-2 record, something that’s quite impressive by any standards. Among the highlights so far include a close win over the current #6 team in the country, the University of Delaware Blue Hens, and a perfect ECHA record of 9-0, including a win over Stony Brook, a team that was previously unbeaten in conference play, and generally regarded as WCU’s main competition for the ECHA crown.
Heading into the weekend tilts with Towson, forwards Pat Johnson, Jim Gehring and Eddie Devine were pulling off the spectacular feat of being ranked 1-2-3 in the country in scoring. Before the weekend, Gehring had tallied 29 goals and 23 assists for 52 points, while Johnson was evenly balanced with 26 goals and 26 assists. Their goal totals were good for 1-2 in the national goals race. Devine’s 32 assists are also tops in the nation and Johnson’s 26 assists were good enough for third in the country.
This trio has really carried the team in terms of scoring and has also arguably been its top defensive line. As the old saying goes, “The best defense is a great offense,” really holds true for this outstanding trio. This line has set the tempo for each game in nearly every single game, and is running away with the title of most deadliest and feared line in the country. Gehring also leads the country with five game winning goals. They may be in line to steal the title of Big Three from Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen of the NBA’s Boston Celtics if they continue this production.
Leading the defense, at least offensively, has been defenseman Chris Orlando. Orlando had a respectable season offensively last year with three goals and two assists in 22 games, but with increased power play time, has seen his production skyrocket. Orlando already has tripled his offensive output with four goals and 11 assists in 18 games, and all four of his goals have come via the power play.
However, the defense’s best all-around production has arguably come from a freshman. Keith Kaminski has seen a lot of ice time for a freshman, yet he has made the most of his chances. Technically sound on the defensive side of things, Kaminski also possesses exceptional puck movement skills. Kaminski has contributed one goal and two assists on offense, and most expect his numbers to climb in the second half.
The title of best defensive defenseman on this team probably still lies with Jesse Petrillo. Petrillo, a junior isn’t blessed with exceptional size, yet makes up for it with terrific technique. He has also been more of a contributor on offense with three assists in 15 games.
On the back end, Corey Hackney has been solid and reliable in his second year with the program. Hackney’s stats are not on par with his stats from last year, but he has also faced more tough teams and tends to get rested against some of the lower-ranked teams. Expect Hackney to see a lot of action in the second semester with a much more rugged schedule.
Goaltender Luis Perez has been outstanding when called upon this year, sporting a 2.83 goals against average, and Perez has also registered two shutouts already. Junior Ryan Fenyves has only played one game, yet was outstanding in preventing an upset at the hands of Villanova, making several key stops and shutting down Villanova’s shooters in the shootout.
The Rams will get over a month off before coming back to enter the meat of their schedule, starting with a two game set at home with #8 Liberty. This twin bill will go a long way in impressing national voters. If the Rams want to move up in the rankings, this is the type of team they need to defeat, and do so soundly.
The Rams will also see Drexel in the second semester for two games, as well as #23 Duquesne, #24 Navy, #18 Stony Brook, #11 West Virginia, and #19 Robert Morris of Pennsylvania. Of these, only Stony Brook is a conference foe, and a win over them would secure a perfect ECHA record for the Rams at 10-0.
However, all of these games will go a long way in determining if the Rams are contenders or pretenders. Following this grueling stretch of games, of which only four are on the road, the Rams will look to claim the ECHA tournament title that eluded them last year when they lost to Rhode Island, and then they will head to Rochester, N.Y., for the National Tournament where the 16 best teams in the country will vie for the one thing every team has been chasing all season, and that is a national championship.
If the Rams want to be serious contenders for the title, they will need to find more scoring from people not named Gehring, Johnson, or Devine. In addition, better defensive zone coverage and some vintage performances from Hackney wouldn’t hurt. It promises to be an interesting second half of the season.
Matt Chandik is a third-year student. He can be reached at MC618553@wcupa.edu