By Julie Kayzerman
With 10 minutes left in the third period and the Lions down, 4-1 against St. Joseph’s University, coach Andrew Ducko changed his strategy.
Ducko installed a cherry-picking forward to stay up at the blue line in St. Joe’s defensive zone. It was a risky move, but it worked.
The ice opened up with four-on-four play in the neutral zone and the resilient Lions broke through, scoring four goals in 10 minutes to secure an epic 5-4 comeback on their home ice at Louck’s Ice Center on Saturday, Oct. 3, at 8:30 p.m.
“It shows that they fight through adversity,” Ducko said. “They came up in the clutch.”
It was senior defender Steven Czachor who finally put the College up on the scoreboard with 4:24 left in the second.
Czachor blasted a shot past the Hawks goalie from the point, off an assist from senior forward Tyler Viducic.
“We played very poorly in the first period and for much of the second, so finally getting one on the board was vital,” Czachor said. “But we were still down, 3-1, so there wasn’t much time or reason for celebration, there was a lot of work to be done, still.”
The Lions took the ice in the third down, 4-1, but continued to come out flat, being significantly outshot by the their opponent.
However, the defensive pair of senior captain Matt Martin and freshman Matt Liebers held the College tight, while goalie David Laub proved to be solid, with point blank saves on breakaway opportunities to keep the Lions in it.
With 9:49 left in the third, the first line of senior forwards Salvatore DiBrita, Evan Herrington and junior Kevin Collins sparked the comeback.
Collins got the puck to DiBrita skating up center ice, who dished it off to Herrington for a one-timer into the net.
“Sal and Kev always come up big and we had a huge game from Herrington tonight,” Ducko said.
Herrington was newly moved up to the first line after freshman forward Will Dimock received a concussion the night before in the Lions’ 2-2 tie against Monmouth University.
Two minutes later, the College finally capitalized on a power play, with DiBrita deflecting in a shot from sophomore defender Dylan McMurrer, who powered a slap shot on net from the point.
“I would love to say that I knew we were going to come back all along, but being down by three goals with 10 minutes left had a lot of us feeling down on the bench,” Czachor said. “Our first line put us on their backs in the last 10 minutes. Getting that second goal from Herrington got us all back into it and then our captains, Sal and Kev, took over with aggressive forechecking and timely finishing.”
With St. Joe’s visibly confused by Ducko’s cherry-picking strategy, the open ice proved beneficial to the Lions, as they played their best 10 minutes of hockey this season.
With 4:52 to go, it was captain Collins who tied it up at 4-4, driving through the counter defense to score off a McMurrer assist.
Collins completed the storybook finish with 19 seconds remaining, sniping a rocket in the top left pocket of the net, with assists from DiBrita and Martin, to secure the 5-4 win.
“A comeback win like that builds character and brings us closer together,” Czachor said. “You can just tell from the overall atmosphere on the bench and in the locker room afterwards what kind of impact this had on our team, from the coaching staff to the captains, all the way down to our newer guys.”
Ducko credited the win to the positive attitudes of his players and the resiliency they displayed in the final minutes of the game.
“They come to practice, work hard and stay after,” Ducko said. “That little stuff, late in the game, it shows.”
The Lions hit the road for two away games before returning home on Friday, Oct. 16, to take on Seton Hall University at 9:30 p.m.