ice hockey club team had been ranked 10th in the Southeast Division of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. This was the first time the Owls received a regional playoff bid since joining the league last season.
With the top 10 teams advancing to regional play in each of the four divisions, a couple Owls said they knew they had to finish the season with a few wins to secure a spot in the postseason.
Behind a 6-4 win over Seton Hall on Feb. 3 at the Northeast SkateZone, the Owls clinched the No. 9 spot. The Owls will play the No. 4 seed, Indiana, in their first regional game on Feb. 16 in Youngstown, Ohio.”We’ve reached a goal we’ve been going for all year,” junior defenseman Rob Hughes said. “To be in the league for two years [and to make the playoffs], it says something about the team. It makes you proud to play.”
Hughes said the new coaching staff had a significant impact on the way the team played this season. “If we were down struggling, our coaches had an answer,” Hughes said. “It was a lot easier to play with leadership.”
Senior forward Jerry Roberts said coach Aaron Voegtli and assistants Greg Lausch and Matt Zaletski brought a culture change.”The coaching changed everything,” Roberts said.
“Nothing was the same – on the ice, in the locker room or in strategy. We are not one of the most talented teams, but we play as a team better and our players believe in [the coaching].” Earlier in the season, the Owls struggled to adjust to the staff and the lack of experience. More than half of the team is composed of freshmen and sophomores. But the players eventually got a feel for each other.
“From the coaches down to the fresh men – we know how to win as a team,” Hughes said. “We can definitely win games as a team, not as individuals.”
The Owls have said all season that they are ready for the playoffs. Hughes said the team strongly feels it can advance deep into the postseason.
“We’re ready,” he said. “We had a talk on Wednesday at practice about what we were going into the playoffs with. We’re going in expecting to win.”
Since the first and second ranked teams in each division advance directly to the National playoffs, the Owls need to win two games to advance. Roberts said the one-and-done mentality in the playoffs should produce a favorable outcome
for the team.
“In past years, we’ve known what our limits were,” Roberts said. “We believe we can ride this all the way. We only have to be better than [the other team] for 60 minutes. Last year, four of the teams that played at Nationals were the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds.
“During the playoffs, when everything’s on the line – that’s when we’ll really come together,” Hughes said.
Melissa DiPento can be reached at email@example.com.