By Julie Kayzerman
With an array of pictures from previous seasons strung on the walls of the Loucks Ice Center alongside cut-out letters spelling “2x Champs” — Saturday, Feb. 7, was a night to remember for the Lions Ice Hockey team and more importantly for the seniors.
Dominating the New Jersey Institute of Technology 6-2, the College’s seniors — all members of two championship teams — ended their regular season home ice time in the best way possible — on top.
“It’s always a bittersweet night,” coach Joseph Cucci said. “For the seniors, it was a great win. Those guys have been awesome, every one of them, so it’s great to see them get a win on their night.”
The Lions honored seven seniors: captains Alex D’Alessio and David Laub, defenders Daniel Guglielmo and Nick Wilechansky and forwards Ryan Grum, Craig Ismaili and Daniel Castellucci.
D’Alessio, the heart of the team with his consistent support and energy, has been sidelined by injury with a torn ACL for a majority of the season, yet has never failed to motivate his team.
He was applauded loudly during the senior honoring ceremony as he took his home ice one last time. He threw his crutches up into the air, imitating the moves of Olympian Jack O’Callahan in “Miracle” — symbolizing that despite injury, he’ll remain as the heart of the Lions as long as he can.
While the game remained uncomfortably close during the first period and a half for the Lions — a clearly more seasoned team than NJIT — it was goalie Laub who stood out during the night to hold off the pressure until his team re-invigorated its drive. With a string of three impressive saves followed by two more in the last minutes of the first period, Laub allowed his team to walk into the locker room with a 1-0 lead off a goal from junior captain Salvatore DiBrita, assisted by line mates Tyler Viducic and Kevin Collins.
Gearing up for the second, the Lions continued to come out flat, allowing NJIT to score twice. But it didn’t get any better as the Lions fell victim to a serious injury when freshman defenseman Dylan McMurrer went down with a broken leg after crashing into the boards. This was a huge loss for the Lions just before playoffs as McMurrer has proved to be the backbone of the College’s defense while also adding momentum as a forward at times, scoring vital goals throughout the season.
But with the unfortunate event of McMurrer’s injury, his team seemed to rally up a deeper drive and finally proved themselves as the better team on the ice, leaving the second period at 3-2 with a goal from senior Craig Ismaili off a DiBrita assist and a late power play snipe from Viducic off a pass from junior defender Matt Martin.
The drive continued as the third period previewed a team with a hopeful run in the playoffs, sporting a dynamic chemistry between DiBrita and Collins, who racked up the scoreboard as the Lions outshot NJIT 20-6 in the third and led in shots 57-37 overall.
DiBrita netted his second of the night early in the third followed by two straight goals from Collins who dominated his way through the Highlanders’ defense and past their talented goalie.
Now the Lions look to gain a point in their last regular season game against UPenn on Friday, Feb. 13, to clinch third place in playoff standings.
“If we play our game like the last 35 minutes, it’ll be interesting,” Cucci said.