All of the blatant banter between the two hockey teams wasn’t even the biggest spectacle on the ice at last Saturday’s game. Instead, it was the extremely controversial calls of the head referee that left fans screaming, players and coaches disqualified and the College with a severe disadvantage for more than half of the game.
With over 16 penalties called against the College, the game became more about mental composure rather than physical talent. Although it was clear that the players were frustrated with the skeptical calls, they were able to keep focused and shut down their opponent, putting the game away with a 6-2 win against Wagner College on Oct. 5.
As the only consistent part about the referee’s calls was the sounds his whistle made when he blew it, the College spent a significant portion of its game on penalty kills. Nevertheless, they skated through the mental frustration under the leadership of senior captain Scott Rothlisberger.
“I just tried to let them know that regardless of what we do, the calls aren’t going to go for us,” Rothlisberger said. “With that, we need to just focus on playing hard and keep our minds off of the officiating.”
The first goal of the game resulted from a play by Rothlisberger that allowed freshman Will Sulpizio to assist junior Ryan Grum, who picked up the goal at 13:36 in the first.
It didn’t take long for several small fights to break out between players, which were followed by a slew of roughing, holding, boarding and slashing penalties throughout the game, leaving the College excessively shorthanded.
Whether legitimate or not, being shorthanded often forced junior goalie David Laub to step up and play one of his best games this season, making save after save.
“It got a little out of control,” assistant coach Andrew Ferencevych said.” “The ref was attempting to settle it down but he doesn’t do a very good job of that, and for some reason the penalties went against us and not against them, and you can’t explain that.”
The refereeing was so badly received that both teams’ coaches were visibility upset with the calls. The College’s head coach, Joseph Cucci, received a game misconduct at the end of the second period due to his reaction to one of the ref’s calls, leaving Ferencevych in charge.
The second period seemed to be a constant penalty kill for the Lions, but it didn’t even matter as they still came out faster and stronger than Wagner, scoring three more goals in the period.
A little under three minutes into the period, Rothlisberger snuck the puck past the goalie during 4-on-4 play, with an assist from senior John Czarnik.
Exactly six seconds later, the Lions plowed through Wagner’s defense with another 4-on-4 goal by Sulpizio, once again assisted by Czarnik.
The most beautiful goal of the game came from junior Alex D’Alessio who, in a game full of frustration, skated through the opponent’s defense on a breakaway with excellent composure and a quick release, executing a phenomenal shot that put the Lions up 4-0 at 7:17 in the second.
As things heated up at the end of the second, though, the College found itself down a man once again. Wagner finally capitalized on one of their many power plays, scoring a goal during a play that left Laub screened and unable to see the puck.
“We were just telling them to play between the whistles,” Ferencevych said of the obvious frustration coming from the team. “And to stay out of the scrums after the whistles, keep their hands down and just not get involved so they won’t get suspended.”
But even so, both the College and Wagner suffered from player game disqualifications. Wagner’s came early in the first as a player was thrown out for checking a player from behind, forcing him headfirst into the boards.
That type of dangerous play has not ended well for the Lions as freshman Luke May and senior captain Anthony Santisi were both injured this past week due to hits from behind.
Sulpizio also received a game disqualification for spearing.
“I think that call was a little exaggerated on their (the refs) part,” Ferencevych said. “They were both battling back and forth and the call didn’t warrant a disqualification, but we can’t change the score sheet.”
As the pattern of penalties never let up in the third, Wagner found their way to another goal, not long after the College’s fifth and sixth goals were scored: first by a quick release from sophomore Gary L’Heureux and then by Rothlisberger who put the puck in the net off of a beautiful pass from senior captain Kush Patel.
However, despite the unpredicted challenge of facing not only an opponent, but also the inconsistency of the referee, the College managed to keep their heads in the game and walk away with the win.
“The team has been great so far this year,” Rothlisberger said. “It’s fun to watch some of these guys work together. No matter what the lines are it seems everyone has been able to play well with each other.”