Playing a man down is usually not a recipe for success in a hockey game.
The Golden Rams learned that the hard way Friday night when two Towson power play goals helped hand West Chester a 4-1 loss—its seventh straight—in what would have been an otherwise manageable game.
West Chester lived dangerously from the start, taking a couple penalties in the scoreless first period, and giving up a penalty shot opportunity to junior forward Andy Yancone early in the second. Towson failed to score on all three chances, but their forecheck was impressive and they dominated the Rams’ zone on the power play.
On their third man advantage, Towson finally cracked the West Chester penalty kill.
Kevin Carter started the Tigers’ rush from his own end, flew past the West Chester blue line and parked along the right half-boards. He fluttered a saucer pass to Ryan Buccigrossi in the slot, who beat goaltender Randy Japchen to give the Tigers the lead.
The second Tigers’ power play goal came in the third period, just after West Chester’s Ryan Evans had scored his sixth goal of the season to pull the Rams within one. Kevin Lewis took a push from a Towson player, and retaliated by pushing him to the ground. Lewis was issued the only penalty, and halfway through the power play Towson’s Mike Cifelli danced into the slot and scored on the backhand, giving the Tigers a two-goal lead late in the game. This all but ended West Chester’s chance at a comeback.
“Penalties absolutely killed us,” said senior defenseman Mike Ahle. “We had the momentum and we were on our way to coming back from a 2-1 deficit, and a careless penalty on our part cost us that momentum, another goal against, and eventually the game… And we just didn’t seem to be clicking on the penalty kill. We were running around a bit and biting and jumping at the wrong times. We just need to bear down and focus a little harder.”
It did not help that the Rams’ top penalty killer Jim McKee was absent from the lineup recovering from a knee injury. McKee made a name for himself the last three years with his ability to clog shooting lanes and sacrifice his body for a blocked shot on the penalty kill.
“He is one of our strongest players on the penalty kill and in the regular lineup,” said head coach Wayne Sands. “He is a workhorse; we miss him a lot.”
However, it was not just the discipline and penalty kill that was lacking. The Rams’ defense was porous, and they generated next to no offense throughout the game.
“I thought the whole defense played pretty bad,” Sands said. “They kept trying to force the play, going cross ice with passes that were getting picked off which gave the other team sustained possession and kept tired guys on the ice. When we play our best games it is all on the shoulders of the defensemen, and they didn’t do well.”
It was sloppy defense that cemented the Rams’ loss, when a turnover in their own zone led to the fourth and final Towson goal.
“We have to stay sharp for a full 60 minutes,” said goaltender Randy Japchen. “We’ve stressed it all year how you have to show up ready to play a full 60 minutes and unfortunately these minute to two-minute lapses are killing us.”
The scoring problem has been one that has plagued West Chester for the whole season. They have played 25 games and they have nobody on their roster even close to being a point per game player. In the past few weeks, the non-existent offense has been the main culprit of their failure to win hockey games. After Friday’s game, they had not scored more than three goals in a game in their last seven contests, and in those seven they have scored just one goal on four separate occasions.
On Friday, it was a combination of factors that led to the inability to put pucks into the net.
“Their goalie played well, but we have had trouble scoring all year long,” Sands said. “A number of our big point-scorers are out, and a lot of the shots we had were shot right into the goalie. He made every save he should have and came up with a couple big saves, but [we just had] bad shot selection all around. We had a couple opportunities with open nets where it bounced over the stick, or shot wide and it sort of compounds when we are playing bad.”
The loss puts West Chester at a 10-14-0-1 record on the season, with just seven games left to play in the season. They will return home to host Lebanon Valley College—who they have beaten twice this year—next Friday, with puck drop scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Kenny Ayres is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a journalism minor. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.