After coming back from a tough loss against William Paterson on Friday night, the Lions left their hearts on the ice with sheer determination in hopes of redemption and dominated three periods of hockey on both sides of the rink against NJIT, winning 8-1 at the Loucks Ice Center in Lawrenceville on Saturday, Sept. 21.
“We played against William Paterson (on Friday night)—one of the top teams in the country— and to be honest, the 8-2 score wasn’t indicative of how we played,” head coach Joseph Cucci said. “I thought the boys really competed, and it could’ve been a much different game, so to follow it up with that type of effort in this (game), we’re going in the right direction.”
Beginning the home opener favorably, senior Kush Patel forced the arena into the first of many “Olay TCNJ” chants after dumping the puck into the back of the net, scoring his first goal of the season at 4:38 in the first period.
Patel contributed two goals and an assist by capitalizing on the aggressive fore check of his linemates, forward sophomore Sal DiBrita and senior forward Nick Lisciandro, who had two assists.
“I think we hit,” DiBrita said. “I think we came out hard from the first shift. We played our game, a very physical, aggressive, cut-throat style. We’re an aggressive team and we can wear them down and by doing that. They get weaker, and we feed off of it.”
Their previous game against William Paterson featured several mental game-breaking lapses, so the Lions made sure not to let up after intermission again on their home ice against NJIT, as they steamrolled in with goal after goal in the second period.
Freshman Luke May continued to prove he deserves his spot on the ice with two goals and an assist, while fellow freshman Will Sulpizio also racked up three points with a goal and two assists.
Sulpizio played an impressive game, highlighting his explosive speed and willingness to fight. He scored one of the more memorable goals of the night as he battled his way through the opposing defenders on a breakaway and was able to deke the goalie and snipe the puck into the top of the net.
“He’s unbelievable,” Cucci said. “Basically from the first practice it was like, ‘man, we got a real gem in this kid.’ He’s fast, he competes, he’s not scared of the physical stuff, he sticks his nose in it. He’s been a big piece and a big help. All of our new guys this year have been top notch.”
But it wasn’t just the offense that came out strong, as the Lions’ defense collectively threw themselves at every puck and consistently blocked shots with what DiBrita summed up as a performance of pure “sacrifice.”
Sophomore Matt Martin successfully played tight defense, fighting back from a serious knee injury in which he tore his ACL and MCL.
However, Martin’s injuries from last season were not at all apparent in the game, as he also contributed to the scoreboard with a slapshot from the point, leaving the goalie with little chance at a save.
Also putting up an impressive showing was the Lions’ penalty kill, yielding shorthanded opportunities and offsetting the extra opponent with excellent blocking from sophomores Steven Czachor and Evan Herrington.
Herrington was also among the goal scorers of the night along with sophomore forward Gary L’Heureux, who also picked up an assist. Junior Alex D’Alessio, who received an assist, was a key player in the College’s offensive plays, blocking shots, hitting well and skating hard for the team.
For several fans in the stands watching the game, it may have seemed that the College’s offensive lines were without struggle. That was not the case, though, even after losing former foward coach Cliff Morichelli, who left for personal reasons.
“As a forward, this year is especially tough because (Morichelli) isn’t with us this year,” DiBrita said. “When the news broke to us everyone was just like ‘What, what do you mean he’s not coming back?’ Everyone loved him, he was just very down to earth. But I definitely think (coach Cucci) is handling it well. We just have to get used to it.”
However, despite the lack of Morichelli on the bench, the team certainly didn’t show any hindrance in their play.
Lions goalie junior David Laub only let in one goal in the 60 minutes of play, despite facing 24 shots.
The Lions are looking to win the championship this year, but are not overlooking their upcoming games against Lafayette College on Friday, Sept. 27 and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at home on Saturday, Sept. 29, according to DiBrita.
“We all need to look each other in the eyes and be honest that we’re giving it 100 percent,” DiBrita said. “I think our goal should always be to win the championship. I think if that’s not your goal, then you’re not doing your sport right … so your eyes should always be on the prize, but just take it one game at a time, just one win at a time.”