By Julie Kayzerman
When Jimmy Fallon’s character is sitting in the dugout in 2005’s “Fever Pitch,” a young kid leaves him behind with one final thought.
“You love the Red Sox, but have they ever loved you back?”
For the College’s ice hockey senior captain Salvatore DiBrita, he looked back on that scene after the team’s devastating overtime loss to Princeton University, 5-4, in the Colonial States College Hockey Conference (CSCHC) Championship Finals on Sunday, Feb. 21, at Ice Line Arena in West Chester, Pa.
“Hockey is a game that does love you back,” forward DiBrita said.
While the Lions didn’t quite cap off a stellar 19-7-1 season the way they would’ve hoped, the 2016 regular season champions finished it together.
“I’m very proud of the season we had and I’m very thankful for the group of guys that we were able to play with,” senior defenseman and co-captain Matt Martin said. “You do always wish that a long season culminates in that one moment that shows you the significance of what you did and what you put in. We don’t have a trophy to look at but you have a lot of memories, a lot of good times and a good group of guys.”
The Lions and Tigers battled each other in a nail-biting, back-and-forth final game, trading goals until it was Princeton who tapped one in at the right time, just 4:42 into sudden death overtime.
Junior forward Peter Hansinger put the Lions up early in the first with a goal off an assist from senior defender Gary L’Heureux. But the College fell victim to a 5 on 3 penalty kill, allowing Princeton to tie up the game, 1-1. The game continued in similar fashion, with the Lions taking the lead, only to be followed with a matching goal from a resilient Princeton team. Hansinger added another tally for the Lions as did junior forward Kevin Collins and DiBrita. The goals were each scored with assists from defensemen freshman Matthew Liebers, sophomore Dylan McMurrer and junior forward Michael Lisciandro. Senior goalie David Laub stood tall with an impressive 31 saves on 36 shots for the team.
“No one team is 100 percent perfect in the course of a game,” DiBrita said. “Mistakes happen. It’s a part of sports, it’s a part of life, but you have to try to do your best to move on.”
For the core group of nine seniors: DiBrita, Martin, L’Heureux, forwards Tyler Viducic and Evan Herrington, goalies Laub and Fred McQuade and defensemen Steven Czachor and Alex Moskal, it was their last time lacing up for the ice.
While the disappointment of the emotional loss was clear, the heart they showed for each other, throwing themselves in front of pucks, couldn’t go unnoticed.
“Something like physically putting your body on the line is a manifestation of our love for each other, our care and our common goal of wanting to win,” DiBrita said. “By doing that, you’re showing your team that you’re dedicated and you’ll do whatever it takes to let the guy next to you win.”
Collins added that the rookies on the team stepped up big for the upperclassmen this season, making an impressive transition onto the team in just one semester.
“I think it was a good learning experience for a lot of the younger guys and I think that overall we had a good season,” Collins said. “One game won’t define your season. We had a special team this year and we showed it.”
The squad this year had the best chemistry this team has seen in four years and DiBrita, Martin and Collins all chalk it up to the team’s tight-knit group off the ice.
“Whenever there were highs and lows or dips in the game, our personalities and our chemistry would bring us back to square one,” Martin said. “I think that kept us calm and collected in games where we were down a couple of goals and that was a reflection of our ability between friends and teammates to keep each other in check.”
This chemistry was more apparent than ever in a season-defining moment when the College came back from trailing, 4-1, in the third period against St. Joe’s University back in October, to dominate with a four-goal period and seal the win.
DiBrita, Martin and Collins look back at the moment as the turn of the season that set the tone of the team’s chemistry.
“There has been so much that has happened over the course of our college lives, but there’s only been one constant, and that’s always been hockey,” Martin said. “To be able to return semester after semester with the same group of guys and keep building on relationships, I just think that’s something special… to be able to play the game I love and also make some of the best friends that have pretty much made my college experience.”
For DiBrita, it was hockey that gave him a sense of place at the College, as the team became a family.
“When you come to college, you have so many things that overwhelm you, but I think if you have a hockey team, you go on winning streaks and losing streaks, road trips, diner runs at 2 a.m., and that’s what makes you close,” DiBrita said. “It’s the things like that make you a family, make you want to block a shot and just make sure that the guy next to you is one step closer to succeeding.”
The nine seniors graduate from the team with a successful string of wins, a 2014 Greater Northeast Collegiate Hockey Conference (GNCHC) Championship and a 2016 CSCHC regular season title.
“Two years ago we were close because we were winning,” DiBrita said of the team’s GNCHC Championship season. “This year, we were winning because we were close.”