Merely a week after claiming their second straight ECHA regular season championship by virtue of a 6-2 win over Stony Brook, the WCU Men’s hockey team headed to West Virginia for a two game set with the WVU Mountaineers and left with another two notches on their belt, winning by the scores of 5-3 Saturday and a 5-4 shootout win on Sunday. The weekend saw some more encouraging signs for the Rams, as it showed that their recent balanced scoring is no fluke. During Saturday’s game, four different Rams scored on WVU goaltender Rastislav Kret.
Sophomore defenseman Jeff Shockley continued his recent scoring hot streak as he added his fourth goal of the season. Scoring from defensemen this year has gone down significantly, as there are no longer any very offensively-minded defensemen such as Bob Kenworthy and Bobby Jones as there were last year, so more goals from the blue liners is definitely a great sign as the team rounds into playoff form.
Junior forward Drew Mervin also continued his torrid scoring streak he has recently been on by adding a goal against the Mountaineers, and usual suspects Robert Bushman and Pat Johnson combined for three goals to top the #14 Mountaineers. Johnson has been on fire all year and has nearly accumulated 80 points on the year, good for second in the country behind captain Jim Gehring.
Sophomore goaltender Corey Hackney is definitely hitting his peak at the right time. He stopped 45 of 48 shots against Stony Brook last week, and continued his success this weekend with a pair of outstanding games.
Sunday’s game saw an exciting wire-to-wire game which culminated in a shootout. Gehring paced the Rams with a pair of goals in regulation, and sophomores Mike Longo and Bob MacLaughlin also chipped in a goal each.
With the score knotted at four after 65 minutes of play, the teams went to a shootout. Gehring, sophomore Eric Keene and sophomore Pat Johnson all tallied a goal for the Rams, and Hackney was able to turn away the Mountaineer shooters as the Rams won the shootout 3-2. The win evened the Rams’ shootout record this year at two wins and two losses.
With their regular season conference schedule wrapped up, the Rams will now host Robert Morris of Pennsylvania next weekend, before setting their sights on claiming that ever-elusive ECHA playoff crown a week later.
The Rams host the ECHA playoffs this year, as they did last year, and they will be looking for a different result than the one they were dealt last year. Rhode Island claimed the trophy after dispatching of the Rams by the score of 3-1, though the Rams should be in a much better position to win the trophy this year.
By virtue of their 10-0 first place finish, the Rams will receive a bye through the first round and could play Towson, Lehigh, Maryland or Villanova the next day in the semi-finals. Assuming they handle whichever of the four teams they play, the Rams can probably expect to see Stony Brook again in the finals, which could make for a very exciting final.
With two more wins this season, the Rams will break their single-season record for wins, set last season with 25. The sweep of West Virginia gave them 24 wins, and sweeping RMU could set them up in a great position to hit the magical 30 win mark.
A sweep could possibly propel WCU into the top 8 in the national rankings, assuring them of a “home” game at the National Tournament in Rochester, N.Y.
The Rams have an outside shot at finishing seventh in the pre-tournament rankings, and as of right now, would probably get matched up against Rhode Island, Ohio, or the same team they defeated last year, Iowa State.
With a much deeper roster this season, this team could definitely make the Final Four and possibly even more.
Matt Chandik is a third-year undecided student. He can be reached at MC618553@wcupa.edu.