Club ice hockey preview: a new atmosphere with expectations

By Jake Serrano

After falling short in regionals to Ohio State last season, Rider club ice hockey looks to pick up where they left off.

Head coach Sean Levin said, “I think we have a lot to prove to ourselves, to the Mid Atlantic and the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) as a whole. Rider’s ‘MO’ has always been good but never great, it’s always been they can get to that last hurdle but never over it. We’ve been close for very long.”

With key leadership returning to the Broncs, senior defenseman Eddie Coyne is excited to get back in the rink.

“We have a lot to prove to ourselves,” said Coyne. “We have the team built for nationals, it’s just about showing up every night.”

A prove it year

With expectations high, everyone feels they have something to prove this year after coming up short last season.

For junior forward Dominick Cerceo, it’s about making improvements to his game to make the team better. The junior is focused on taking his leadership role and defense to the next level.

In last year’s regular season, Cerceo led the Broncs in goals with 21 across 26 games.

Senior forward DJ Sucher talked about the team aspect and how everyone is focused on staying consistent the entire game through three periods. “I have a very sour taste from our regional loss to Ohio State last year, and I think a lot of guys do, and this year we don’t want to accept anything other than winning,” Sucher said.

Sucher totaled 22 points in 26 contests last season, including the game-winner against Rowan that sent the Broncs to the MAAC playoff finals.

Learning curves

With the last two weeks dedicated to training camp, the Broncs geared up for their Sept. 16 scrimmage against the Mercer Chiefs, but were defeated 5-2.

Sucher talked about staying comfortable while keeping it simple. “We are hoping to build positives for next week,” Sucher said.

Late in the 2nd period freshman forward Alex Blaszak scored, as well as junior forward CJ Perkins, to help put Rider on the board.

In the third period, the scrimmage got away from the Broncs, who were outscored 2-0. During the timeout, Perkins tried to set the team to focus in the final minutes of the scrimmage. Yet, multiple penalties disrupted Rider’s strategy to close the gap.

“We have to play better, and we have to play disciplined … we’re going to learn from this,” Levin said.

Even with the loss, Levin liked what he saw. “I love our goaltending,” he said, mentioning freshman goaltender Shawn Mika and junior goaltender Justin Wellman and their play during the game.

The Broncs had to shake off the rust, but their mission remains the same this season: win.

“It starts with the seniors and with myself as a grad student,” said graduate student forward TJ Evan after the scrimmage.

Evan was an assistant captain for last year’s team and led Rider in points with 33 in 26 games.

Levin sets a standard

Levin spoke about the high standard that he has for the team this upcoming season. “Expectations
for us this year are extremely high. We are holding ourselves accountable to get to the MACH (Mid Atlantic Collegiate Hockey) championship and win it. We expect to make it back to regionals and win that first game and beyond. Anything short of those two goals, the season is a failure … a national berth is our ultimate goal.”

With that being said, Levin sees the promise of this team and why they should reach their goals. Levin is impressed with all the freshmen thus far and is excited to see them out on the ice.

“Offensively we have seen some great things from Alex Blaszak. Alex is a player coming to Rider after playing some Junior hockey, so he’s mature, and he approaches the game a little differently from the other players,” Levin said.

Levin stressed the importance of mental preparation for this upcoming season and not overlooking games on the schedule. Most players said to keep it simple, and that’s what Levin preaches.

“It’s a mindset when we play teams on paper that we should beat; we don’t take them lightly,” said Levin. He discussed how the team needs to approach every game like it is a playoff or regional game.

“We have to play a complete game; we have to play structured, and we have to play selfless hockey.”

With a lot to prove this year, the Broncs hope to have high intensity and focus leading into each game. But play aside, the team wants the community to come out and support the squad this season.

“We have a bunch of event games this year. Last year we had pink in the rink and military night. This year we’re expanding; we have Greek night, Rider faculty and staff night, Rider hockey alumni night and we’re also having a Mercer Chiefs night … I just think the atmosphere is going to be different than the past,” Coyne said.

Levin mentioned the Broncs will also be giving back to the community with many events for faculty and students this year. “Not for nothing, but we play better when we have a big crowd,” Levin said.
The Broncs now begin preparing for their first two games of the season. Rider will be at home against Montclair State on Sept. 23 and away against Villanova Sept. 24.

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