MIH: Colonels upset by five-seed in UCHC playoff game


Kirsten Peters

Freshman defenseman Michael Gurska consols fellow defenseman Chris Dalfara following Wilkes’ loss before returning to the locker room for the last time this season.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa — The fourth-seeded Wilkes University men’s ice hockey team fell short 5-2 in its first-ever home playoff game to the fifth-seeded Nazareth College Golden Flyers on Feb. 19 at the Toyota Sportsplex in the first round of playoffs.

The excitement of playoff hockey did not disappoint the spectators, as both teams came onto the ice with a substantial amount of physicality and intensity. 

Wilkes goaltender Brandon Gordon was tested in the first minute when Nazareth College had three shots, two of which went wide and one with Gordon making the save. 

Both teams went back-and-forth with their share of opportunities, as well as their share of penalties. 

Freshman forward Danny Reidel went to the penalty box for a hooking call with just under 12 minutes remaining in the first period. 

Ray Falso was able to break Gordon open and put the Golden Flyers on the board first, giving them a 1-0 lead over the Colonels. 

Freshman defenseman Donald Flynn found himself in the penalty box twice in a matter of four minutes after Nazareth’s goal. The second time proved to be costly for the Colonels, as the Golden Flyers were able to sustain offensive pressure in the Colonels zone after their power play was over. Eventually scoring another goal was J.R. Wojciechowski, giving Nazareth the 2-0 lead. 

“Penalties are apart of the game, and I think we took some untimely stick penalties,” said Wilkes head coach Brett Riley on the penalties in the first period. “Nights that we usually take more penalties than the opposing team, the score will often reflect that in a negative way. We preach discipline and we lacked that in the first period and that was the story of the night.”

The Colonels had a few opportunities to try and bring themselves back after trailing early on, but they were unable to capitalize on any of these instances.

Returning from the first intermission, Wilkes proved that they did not get discouraged by the 2-0 deficit. 

Flynn and junior forward/defenseman Jivan Sidhu were taking shots left and right to try and crack Sean Kuhn, the Gold Flyers stellar goalie. But this momentum quickly came to an end, as the Colonels were called for yet another penalty, this time for having too many men on the ice.

The Golden Flyers wasted little time getting to work on the powerplay and got the puck past Gordon yet again, extending their lead 3-0. 

The penalties going back-and-forth eventually swayed in favor of the Colonels. 

Sophomore forward Tyson Araujo and the power play unit brought Wilkes back into the game.

“Usually when Donny gets the puck, I just try to just go to the net,” said Araujo, reflecting on his goal. “So when he got the puck, I just went to the net and he pretty much shot it off me … and that’s how I get most of my goals, honestly.”

The Colonels and Golden Flyers exchanged shots, but Gordon and Kuhn did a great job of keeping each other’s teams in the game.

Being that Kuhn was instrumental on Nazareth’s defensive end, Riley noted his impact on Wilkes’ offense.

“He’s a really good goalie,” said Riley. “He’s calm and collected. He gave Nazareth a chance to win a hockey game because shots were three-to-one in our favo, and it’s clear he didn’t give us much, so credit to him.”

Once Wilkes gained some momentum back, they were able to sneak the puck by Kuhn again with just under six minutes left in the second period. Freshman forward Phil Erickson jammed the puck and was able to find the back of the net, cutting the Colonels deficit to 3-2 and increasing Wilkes’ confidence heading into the third period.

“We’ve been there before a few times …,” said Flynn, noting how the Colonels were losing going into the third period. “We’ve come back in the third, so there was no panic, there was just a lot of confidence.”

The Colonels came out in the third period with a lot of momentum and kept pounding the shots at Kuhn. 

Flynn hit the post several times, but none were able to end up in the net for the Colonels, resulting from bad angles. 

As time winded down in the third period, Gordon was pulled from the net to allow another attacker onto the ice. However, this backfired for the Colonels and allowed the Golden Flyers to increase the score by sending the puck down into the empty net. 

Alex Corvi and Brad Pizzey were both able to get by the Wilkes extra attackers, putting a victory out of sight for the Colonels. 

Time expired and the Colonels fell 5-2, officially ending their season in the UCHC quarterfinal match at the Toyota Sportsplex. 

Despite a tough loss in the opening round of the playoffs, Riley was extremely proud of what his team has been able to accomplish this season.

“I’m extremely proud of our team,” said Riley, reflecting on the success of Wilkes’ inaugural season. “It’s a 16 win season, which is more than any first year program. To receiving national votes and being one point away from a MAC title, having home ice advantage and a first round bye – I can’t say enough good things about our guys and the year they had.”

The Wilkes men’s ice hockey team defied a lot of the odds, such as being doubted and being selected to finish in second to last if not last place in the UCHC conference. 

“It gave us something to play for,” said Araujo, noting the determination the players had to overcome the predictions. “We knew we were doubted, and we played the whole year with our backs against the wall and it made us play a lot better.”

The Colonels finished their season at 16-8-2 overall with a 11-5-2 record in the UCHC. For the men’s ice hockey team, it is time to go into the offseason and build on the foundation they set this year. 

“We had a great year,” said Flynn. “We did a lot of building together and a lot of the guys didn’t know each other and now we’re a family. The big thing is we’re happy with each other and we are really excited for the future.”