By Rebecca Taylor Bludgus
A NEW conference, new staff and new faces define a new season for Rider club ice hockey immediately after winning its first title in 23 years.
This season marks a fresh start for the 2023 Mid- Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Champions with the Broncs joining the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League as a member of the M2 Premier Mid-Atlantic Division.
Sticking by them in their division are familiar foes Delaware and Maryland, along with Penn State and Rowan, who they beat 8-0 in the MACH Championship game this past February.
“We stole three [games] from Maryland, I think one from Delaware, so they’re in our league again,” said Head Coach Conner Fox. “They know who we are and what we’re trying to do, so, they’re going to probably try to stand in our way.”
Fox, who was an assistant coach the last two seasons and played at Rider from 2012-16, took over for former Head Coach Sean Levin.
In his staff, he is joined by Goaltending and Defensive Coach Carter Siani and Offensive and Assistant Coach Larry Walker.
There are 11 fresh faces on the roster, including 10 freshmen.
“We’ve got guys with a lot of great attitude, incredible work ethic and guys just, you want to bring it, they want to earn a spot this year,” said Fox.
Freshman forward Ryan Kenna and freshman defenseman Liam Yeoman have gotten their start on the top lines. Kenna is grouped with senior forward Dom Cerceo and junior center and alternate captain Cole Schneider on offense. Yeoman is paired with graduate student and captain Eddie Coyne on the defensive end.
Before coming to Rider, Kenna took off for two years playing junior hockey in the NA3HL and the EHL.
Yeoman, on the other hand, is fresh out of high school and starting the season on the top line paired with his teammates who have an abundance of experience.
“He stepped up to the task, he’s played in the right spots, he’s been super sound defensively,” Kenna said of Yeoman. “We’re super proud of him and we’re super excited to see what he can do for his four years here.”
In their second game and home opener, the Broncs forced the Seton Hall Pirates to walk the plank in the 4-3 Rider win.
While Rider was victorious in the end, the Broncs stumbled out of the gate, and allowed two points early in the game to give Seton Hall the advantage.
“I think that we played down a little bit to their level,” said Kenna. “I think that we came in there expecting to kind of run them out of the building and when they pushed back, we weren’t necessarily ready for it.”
In the second, the Broncs got on a 5-3 power play, giving them a two-man advantage, but they did not get a single shot on goal during that time period.
Kenna said. “We’re still getting used to our power play units, our new lines … once we get a little bit more experience under our belt, I think that we’ll be able to operate a little bit more efficiently.”
In the middle of the second period, a Seton Hall skater almost took out the knee of junior forward Mark Marron with a play that sent him flying and spinning in the air, but Marron was able to get back on his feet.
Senior forward Justin Rauch then came to Marron’s defense, causing a scrum between the Broncs and the Pirates.
The result was a two-minute minor penalty for elbowing on Rauch and two penalties on the Pirates, including a two-minute minor for the initial hit on Marron and a five-minute major for the subsequent scuffle.
The Broncs responded to that play with a goal from senior center Mark McDermitt nine seconds into the power-play, and Coyne was credited with the assist.
With 14 seconds left in the power-play, Schneider scored a goal with the assist from Marron and sophomore forward Alex Blaszak.
The Broncs continued to score with a goal from senior forward Anthony Zito, with Kenna and freshman defenseman Jake Bennert credited on the assist for their first points as Broncs.
“It was a little bit of a broken play,” Kenna said. “Puck goes low to high and then, I think Jake Bennert shot it off the crossbar. A little bit of a scramble in front … [Zito] pops it home.”
The last goal for the Broncs would come in the final 16 seconds on an unassisted goal from sophomore forward Aaron Pape that cruised right past the keeper.
“We put up four goals in the second period, and I think that was what rider hockey is,” said Fox. “We’re still battling to really reign in our discipline. … I think we played about 20 minutes of hockey. . We’re not there yet and getting a full 60.”
Going into the third, the Broncs did not let the Pirates get a single shot on goal for about the first ten minutes of the period.
In the last two minutes, Seton Hall scored once on an empty net goal and that would be the last point of the game.
“We’re focused on not becoming comfortable,” said Fox. “The issue is after the second period where we’re back up 4-2 and we start feeling comfortable.”
Rider’s next game is Sept. 29 at Providence College at 8:30 p.m. and the next home game is Oct. 6 at Ice Land Skating Center in Hamilton at 7:30 p.m.
“There’s always a little bit of an adjustment period,” said Kenna. “As the season moves on and as we get more games under our belt, I think that you’ll kind of see that slowly start to fade away.”