After a season filled with ups and downs, the College’s club ice hockey team pulled out a tight victory over Millersville University on Sunday, Feb. 19, by a score of 6-5 to win the Great Northeast Collegiate Hockey Conference Championship.
The championship almost played out like two different games, with the College dominating in the first two periods, going up 5-1, and Millersville making a push in the third period, pushing it to 5-5. However, once they composed themselves the Lions were able to put the decisive goal in the net on a power play.
“We thought we had the game won after the second period, but Millersville knocked us off our game by scoring those four goals so fast,” senior defender Glenn Reese said. “Their crowd really got into it and they had all the momentum. But we finally started playing our game again, started forechecking hard and shored up our defense. That let us stop their scoring frenzy and take back control of the game.”
The game concluded a dominant weekend at the GNCHC playoffs, where the College beat down its first two opponents with a combined score of 10-1. Senior goalie Justin Zegel was able to shut down the opposition all season with solid goaltending and a clear line of sight set by his defenders.
“(Zengel) was outstanding, especially down the stretch,” director of hockey operations Chris Mikolajczyk said. “If he sees it, he’s stopping it. You could drive a truck through the way these guys cleared the way for him to see, and he saw everything no problem.”
For Zengel, winning the championship was the pinnacle of everything that he has done in hockey to this point.
“I have been playing hockey my entire life and have never won anything as meaningful as this championship,” Zengel said. “It makes all those thousands of hours that I’ve spent over the years practicing and traveling and putting my social life on the shelf completely worth it.
“A friend of mine actually said to me yesterday, that I didn’t realize until she said it but she was right. She told me, ‘Do you know how many college senior athletes get to win a championship? It’s probably like 1 percent. You are pretty lucky.’ She was right. I am incredibly lucky and thankful to TCNJ and all of my teammates and coaches that made this happen this year. There is no better way I could have imagined ending my senior year of college than by raising that trophy. It means the world to me.”
First year forward Nick Lisciandro led the league in points, but did not lead the league in either goals or assists, a testament to his well-balanced game.
“I was fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of great players who helped me succeed,” Lisciandro said. “A forfeit by Long Island University our last weekend contributed to me coming up a goal and an assist short from the lead in both, but if we didn’t win the championship all the personal stats would mean nothing.”
Reese was around a few short seasons ago when the team almost disbanded due to lack of membership, so the championship win carried even more pull for him.
“After the 2008-2009 season, we lost a lot of seniors, and the team nearly folded,” Reese said. “The next two years were tough as we had to rebuild the entire team (I was the only player left on the team that played during the 2008-2009 season), but it felt great to be rewarded with a championship for working through those two years. As a graduating senior, it was the greatest way I could possibly think of to end my competitive hockey career.”
Mikolajczyk credits the coaching staff, led by head coach Joe Cucci, for keeping the program afloat and putting them in a position to compete.
“Coach Cucci and (faculty adviser) Les Schriber were really the architects of this team and this program,” Mikolajczyk said.
Sophomore forward Kush Patel is looking forward to another strong year, and hoping to defend the title.
“First and foremost, I think I can speak for the entire team when I say we are hoping to defend our title, and in addition, go even beyond our conference,” Patel said. “Aside from losing (Zengel) and (Reese) to graduating, the bulk of the team will be returning next year. And with getting some new freshman into the lineup, I think we will have as good of a team next year, if not better. Our goal for next season definitely will not change whatsoever.”
Liciandro is also looking forward to another big season.
“Our ultimate goal next year will be to have a good showing in regionals and see where we can go from there,” Liciandro said. “We have a great core of players coming back so sky’s the limit.”
For now however, the players are just enjoying the moment and basking in their victory, especially Zengel.
“Even though it felt like 20 seconds, all I can remember is that I couldn’t stop smiling, and that for the first time it felt like a huge weight had finally been lifted off of my shoulders and that feeling was the greatest feeling I have ever felt,” Zengel said. “I have been playing ice hockey since I was 8 years old, so I had been working my entire life for this one moment, and I think that why it was so relieving. I still have that feeling even now.”