With the taste of victory still fresh in the minds of the Lions Ice Hockey team, a season of changes — some anticipated and others unexpected — has forced the players to adjust to a whole new style of play this year.
Last year, the team’s success relied heavily on alumni Scott Rothlisberger’s rocket from the point, Nick Lisciandro’s knack for finding the net and the dominating sophomore pair of Will Sulpizio and Luke May to rack up points on the scoreboard — a highly offensive style of hockey that landed them as the GNCHC Champions for the second time in three years.
But with six graduating seniors gone, including Rothlisberger and Lisciandro alongside the unexpected loss of Sulpizio to injury and May to personal issues, Head Coach Joseph Cucci is now trying to focus his team on working with a defensive strategy this year.
“We kind of expected that things were going to change, but we’re a little bit more surprised from the other losses we had,” Cucci said. “We relied on our centers a lot, and we’ve had to juggle quite a bit with the guys that never made it back, so it’s been a challenge.”
Now, joining a new conference this season, the Colonial States College Hockey Conference, Cucci still expects his team to compete at a high level and adjust to the new style on the ice.
And while change has seemed to poke holes in the roster, junior co-captain Salvatore DiBrita is trying to focus on the addition of several new players in order to fill in the missing pieces.
“We are just focusing on who we have and trying not to dwell on who we’ve lost,” DiBrita said. “With so many new people, chemistry has been tough to build, but we need to power through and come together.”
The Lions have welcomed an abundance of new players, including freshmen forwards Nick Paranzine and C.J. Muller, freshman defender Dylan McMurrer, junior transfer Nick Zanoni on defense and sophomore transfer Kevin Collins, who’s had an impressive showing up top as a forward thus far, with four points in five games.
Freshman goalie Mickey Avenoso also joined the team, backing up starting goalie, senior co-captain David Laub.
“We’re not as high-end offensively as we were, but we’ve gotten some good players this year that maybe aren’t replacing those guys, but (are) good in their own way,” Cucci said. “We’re going to have to be a more defensive team — we have to be more defensively responsible.”
DiBrita added that the additions to the team are fitting in well, balancing the attitudes of those who can keep the mood light in the locker room with those who have the drive to turn things around on the ice.
Unfortunately, the team has continued to take hits with early injuries that have been extremely detrimental to the Lion’s play thus far, with juniors Matt Martin, Billy Regan and Zanoni out for the next coming weeks.
However, DiBrita mentioned despite some big injuries, “it will give other people a chance to step up and establish themselves on the team, and even a chance for veterans to take on additional responsibilities.”
Martin, who Cucci and the coaching staff “expected to be one of our best defensemen this year,” has had to step up as a center in light of the unexpected changes. He’s predicted to help the offense succeed upon coming back from his shoulder injury.
“He’s got very good puck skills, and he’s also defensively responsible, so we thought that was a good move,” Cucci said.
Former defenseman Tyler Viducic has also been skating up top in order to compensate for the offensive losses. Junior Gary L’Heureux, and seniors Nick Wilechansky and Daniel Guglielmo continue to be strong veteran forces in the back, pairing nicely with the addition of rookies Zanoni and McMurrer.
But the Lions have also been led by a key player this year with senior co-captain Alex D’Alessio at forward.
While this is D’Alessio’s first year as a captain, Cucci recognizes his consistent show of leadership throughout his four years on the team and called him a “natural choice” as captain this year, alongside Laub and DiBrita.
“They’re looked up to in the locker room, and they do everything the right way,” Cucci said of his co-captains. “They’re not afraid to tell other people what they think and what they think will help the team, and we’ll certainly have to rely on them this year.”
While the team has begun the season with an undesirable 1-4 start, its only option now is to skate ahead and continue to fight through the obstacles as they come.
“Our goal is to always go as far as we can in the season, but we need to take it one game at a time so that we don’t overlook any opponents,” DiBrita said. “This start is not ideal by any means, but we know what we need to do in order to improve. So now the onus is on us to execute and pick up our season from here.”
The Lions will take on Princeton University next at the Hobey Baker Rink on Thursday, Oct. 9, at 9 p.m.
“After a start like this, we can’t afford to let any games slip,” DiBrita said.