The WCU Hockey team came into this season with high expectations. That’s what happens when you return nearly all of your key players, including the entire top line who combined for 168 points last season as well as the ACHA Rookie of the Year Runner-Up in goaltender Corey Hackney. Surprisingly, the team had remained stagnant. Well, that was until Saturday night.West Chester’s win over Stony Brook University, a first year team in Division I but a legitimate ECHA title contender, sent a message to the rest of the ECHA that West Chester is still the top dog in the league.
The Rams increased their lead in the ECHA standings as they notched their seventh conference win of the season to remain perfect in league play. After a close loss to Delaware and a pair of losses to Rhode Island, including one via blowout, whispers were getting increasingly louder that last season’s team that finished with a spectacular #7 overall national ranking was a fluke. These same whispers were saying that Stony Brook had a cakewalk to the conference title, and discarded WCU to the side.
Since the 7-2 loss at Brad Boss Arena in Rhode Island which came on the heels of an emotionally draining overtime loss the night before, the Golden Rams are 5-0 and they are scoring goals in bunches. They have averaged nine goals per game in that span and the trio of Pat Johnson, Jim Gehring and Eddie Devine have helped to offset the recent injury woes of junior forward Robert Bushman, a player that tallied 53 points last season. Johnson, Gehring and Devine all headed into this weekend’s action ranked 3rd, 5th and 7th in the national scoring leaders list and have ranged from very good to downright incredible at times this season. The trio has established themselves as arguably the top line in the entire country and when they’re on. No team can stop them.
Over reliance on one line can hurt; however, someone must step up for some complementary scoring. Drew Mervin had a big game against Stony Brook, doubling his season total of points in one night when he tallied a goal and added two assists to go with it. If Mervin and other players can continue balancing the scoring, teams will not be able to key in on Johnson, Devine and Gehring.
However, heading into the weekend, the next closest scorer was defenseman Chris Orlando, who is having a career year with his 10 points so far. For a comparison, that’s 17 points less than Devine, who ranks third on the team in scoring. Players who have been expected to contribute more have struggled to find the back of the net for the Rams, and this needs to change. Forward/defenseman Mike Longo is a naturally gifted scorer whose production needs to improve in order to provide some stability. Third-year veterans Adam Jordan and Kenny Bergeron, usually penalty kill specialists, have increased their scoring this year and combined for 12 points, but more is needed.
The team’s Achilles heel this season has been their play in the defensive zone. Too many blown assignments have led to increased scoring chances for the opponents, and too many times they have taken advantage of these chances. Hackney is an outstanding goaltender, but any time you give a team these many chances up close, even Patrick Roy would struggle to make every save.
Freshman defenseman Keith Kaminski has been the steadiest defensive defenseman according to many of the players I spoke with. This isn’t just blaming the defensemen. Everyone must get more involved in the defensive zone in order for the Rams to tighten up their coverage and to lower Hackney’s goals against average.
If the team truly has turned the corner, it could not have come at a more opportune time. They host 29th ranked IUP for a two game set this weekend, and then head to Michigan over Thanksgiving for a grueling three game set. The next few weeks should be a tough test for the Rams. If they can escape unscathed after the two games with IUP, three in Michigan and a two game set with Towson, they should enter the second semester in a great position to leapfrog some teams in the ACHA rankings.
Matt Chandik is a third-year undeclared student. He can be reached at MC618553@wcupa.edu