Sun. Jan 23rd, 2022

It is unclear whether there were goose bumps from the opening senior night ceremony or the chilling temperatures inside of Ice Line arena.

Regardless of how old a person is, when one reaches the point where he or she can no longer play an organized sport, the feeling is daunting. Even more surreal is the night you have your last home game. Emotion was in the air as the seniors for the WCU men’s hockey team were honored before Saturday night’s match-up with Lehigh. Each player was called out to the center ice to take a picture with his family. As this happened each senior’s accomplishments were announced over the p.a. system.

The seniors who were honored were: Matt Sklodowski, Randy Japchen, Adam Ball, James Munice, Jeff Dugan, and Mike Kozza.

With the blow of the whistle and the drop of the puck, West Chester started off running. The game had not gone on for more than two minutes when West Chester scored their first goal. Sophomore Justin Finnerty was credited with the tally. His wrist shot to the top corner of the net would set the pace for the Golden Rams.

Not long after this goal, sophomore Kevin Lewis was pummeled into WCU’s bench and was down for an extended period of time. The Lehigh player who had checked Lewis was assessed a five minute penalty and later ejected for player mis-conduct after having certain words with the official. WCU would control the puck for the majority of the period.

With the period winding down, West Chester was feverishly fending off fast breaks from Lehigh. Finally, while on the power play, Finnerty got on a fast break and dished it off to Sklodowski for the second goal of the period.

“It’s extremely important to start a game with a lead because you have to start off confident. It really helps with getting the momentum going,” said head coach Wayne Sands.

This period really fore-shadowed the dominance West Chester would have over Lehigh the rest of the contest.

To begin the second period, West Chester won face the face-off and looked to build upon its lead. The Rams, once again, dominated Lehigh’s zone to start the half with an onslaught of shots on goal. Finnerty stayed right in the middle of the action as he continued to crash the boards and be a cog in the offensive machine.

Along with Finnerty, Dugan was also a force the whole game, crashing boards and wreaking defensive havoc in the middle of the ice.

“We played dirty. We tried to play hard by throwing bodies at them and just really trying to attack them” said freshman Ryan McMahon.

Fire was lit under each team as there would be multiple brawls this period.

Not only did the second period have the most brawls, it had the most scoring as well. West Chester would tack on three more goals this period. Two of them came from Ball. Ball’s first goal was a sniper shot from the blue line that left the crowed applauding for minutes.

No more than a minute after Ball’s cannon shot, junior Ryan Evans added his first goal of the night, an unassisted goal in which he just flicked the puck right over the Lehigh goalie’s glove. West Chester’s commanding lead would only get bigger on the Lehigh power play. West Chester cleared the puck down to the Lehigh zone, with Ball being in the right place at the right time. He flicked it in through three Lehigh defenders to extend the lead.

With 13 seconds left in the period, Japchen allowed his first goal of the night. He finished the night only allowing one score in 37 shot attempts by the Lehigh offense. Before the goal, Japchen was hurt on a play.

“Although it hurt and it was unexpected it’s one of those things that comes with the territory of being a goalie. The goal was just one of those where it just bounced to the kid in the slot and he got the goal,” Japchen said.

Luckily this would be the only goal Japchen let up in his stellar defensive game in goal.

The third period had potential to slip away from the squad as the Rams got into some penalty trouble. Before the penalty spree West Chester added its sixth and final goal to the game. Seconds into the final period, freshman Connor Walsh, got on a fast break and wristed a nifty shot on Leigh’s goal tender.

This just added to the already firm cushion the Rams had in the game. The rest of the period the Rams would spend short-handed as they had three penalties which resulted in six minutes worth of power plays. Japchen’s injury did not seem to affect him as he had three stellar saves. Japchen’s replacement, freshman Michael Rice kept composure as he shut out Lehigh for the last seven minutes.

The third period was all about West Chester’s play when short-handed.

“The one area that has been the best for us all year is the way we play when we are short-handed. We have had a lot of younger guys step up, especially during transitions on and off the ice”, said coach Sands on his teams short-handed play.

If anything could be said about this game, it is that the seniors dominated  in their last home game ever. Ball had two great goals. Kozza, Dugan, and Munice were forces to be reckoned with defensively. Sklodowski contributed with a goal, and Japchen played incredible defense in goal.

“You know there are a lot of great memories that we have at that rink and when it’s senior night it’s usually the last time you get to play at home and emotions are high. As a senior you absolutely want go out on a high note and leave everything out there and I’m glad we were able to get the win as a team,” Japchen said.

A game defined by offense, but more importantly hard-nosed play. Every player seemed to be out there with one goal, to manhandle Lehigh. The gritty performance really does attest to the character of each man on the team. Solid short-handed play, gritty defense, and control of the puck were what West Chester used to create this win.

“Yes, mainly for the seniors on the team. Each played better than they have most of the season. Jeff [Dugan] played well even though he has lagged a lot of ice time this season and it seems to be catching up to him,” said coach Sands.

The Rams will try to build on the impressive 6-0 victory against Lehigh, as they will prepare for a weekend double header against Stony Brook. The Rams will travel to Stony Brook for an 8:10 p.m start on Saturday, and they will then have less than 18 hours to rest up and be ready for the game on Sunday as they will rematch Stony Brook in a game that will start at 3:10 p.m.

The Rams will try to build on a sub-par 10-17 record, and get revenge against Stony Brook for two losses earliers in the season.

Michael Murphy is a first-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at MM802071@wcupa.edu

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