MIH & WIH: Colonels reflect, prepare one week out from season

Kevin Singhel and Kendyl Kalish

Men’s Ice Hockey

The inaugural season for Wilkes’ men’s ice hockey team was a smashing success that shattered numerous expectations. The team had a fantastic season, compiling a record of 16-8-2 overall.

Last year’s preseason polls expected the Colonels to struggle as most new teams do, but the team had other plans. The polls pegged the Colonels to finish ninth in the UCHC (United Hockey Conference) and fourth in the MAC (Middle Atlantic Conference). Instead, the Colonels remained in UCHC title contention up until the waning moments of the season, before ultimately finishing fourth in the UCHC and second in the MAC.

The team’s great regular season play earned them a home playoff game, which they ultimately dropped in a close 5-2 game against Nazareth College.

This year the Colonels are looking to build off of their first-year success and use it to launch a powerhouse program.

“It’s definitely a different position than we were in last year,” said head coach Tyler Hynes. “We went from the hunters to the hunted and that’s a testament to what we did last year. But it’s a new season, and we have to prove ourselves all over again.”

Sophomore forward Donald Flynn, a key player for Wilkes during last season, echoed his coach in that this year will present itself to be a different beast than last season.

“Picking up where we left off last year is the most exciting thing,” said Flynn. “Knowing that we have everyone returning, and how special our team can be based off all the hard work and success we had already, is exciting.”

Flynn was a huge part of last year’s success, as he was named UCHC Rookie of the Year and was also named Second Team All-UCHC and a member of the Men’s All-Rookie Team.

However, one of the biggest things to watch for on the ice this season is how the second-year program reacts to a brand new coach. Following the success of Wilkes’ inaugural season, head coach Brett Riley left the university to take an assistant coaching position at Division I Colgate University. As a result, former assistant coach Tyler Hynes has taken over the head coaching reins.

Despite the coaching change, expectations are high for this talented team.

The recently released MAC coaches poll has the Colonels favored to finish at the top. Defending champion Manhattanville has recently left the conference, so it should come as no surprise that last year’s runner-up would be a title favorite.

The MAC champion is crowned from a double round-robin regular season schedule, meaning the Colonels will need to put plenty of work in to secure the title.

In addition to success in the MAC, the team will also look to return to the UCHC playoffs and build off of last year’s playoff berth. Qualifying for playoffs in a program’s first year is an amazing feat, but the team is hungry to accomplish more and make an even deeper run into the postseason. It should be noted that doing so may prove to be a difficult task, as the UCHC is stacked with talented teams.

“The UCHC is a strong league from top to bottom,” explained Hynes. “There are no easy games, and this year we aren’t sneaking up on anybody.”

For some individuals around the team, success this year isn’t just a possibility — it’s an expectation.

“The expectation for this year is to win the conference,” said Flynn. “From there, anything could happen.”

The team certainly has the talent to compete with anybody, as players like Flynn, forward Tyler Barrow, and goaltender Brandon Gordon all earned multiple All-Rookie awards last season.

In fact, six different Wilkes players earned the UCHC Rookie of the Week at some point last season. It is only logical to expect this already-talented young team to improve as the program ages and matures.

“I think our team’s biggest strength is our belief in this program and belief in what we are trying to do here,” added Flynn. “On the ice, I believe our biggest strength is our hockey-sense and skill.”

The team has several strengths to build upon, all of which make Wilkes a dangerous foe on the ice.

“Although we’re a young team, I believe we have a close-knit group that matured a lot last year,” reflected Hynes.

Talent isn’t the only thing the Colonels have going for them, as the squad also has great coaching to lean on. The team likely won’t miss a beat through the coaching change, as Hynes is very familiar with the team from his assistant coaching tenure. Hynes has also had other high-level coaching positions in the past, meaning he’ll be able to steer the program in the right direction.

“There is a lot that we want to accomplish this year, but I think it’s important we remain focused more on the process than the results,” concluded Hynes. “It comes down to winning each day and building good habits in practice.”

The Colonels will look to put all the pieces together starting on Friday, Nov. 1 when they take on SUNY Canton at the Toyota Sportsplex.

Women’s Ice Hockey

The women’s ice hockey team is quickly approaching the start of their second season and the women are excited to get back on the ice.

Preparations for the season are already underway according to head coach Earl Utter and players Kendall Castro, Cally Erickson, Allyson Joly and Valerie Koenig.

They’ve been preparing for the season by conditioning, lifting and bonding with each other.

According to Joly, the Colonels have been practicing every day while also lifting during the week to get their bodies ready.

“We’re also focused on our team chemistry by doing a lot of team bonding,” adds Joly.

Utter noted that the team has been adjusting well to the changes this offseason.

“We’ve run them through a lot of conditioning type drills, like passing and skill drills,” said Utter.

The players have also been working on their systems and playing some games to enhance their technique.

“I think it’s been a good formula to keep them thinking, but having a good time at the same time,” explained Utter.

Koenig, a Colonel defenseman, noted that they’ve put time into working on their movements and making sure that everyone is ready to go for their first scrimmage.

“We’re working a lot on our defensive zone and movement as a team, getting into our positions and making sure everyone knows what they’re responsible for,” said Koenig. “Then when we play that first scrimmage, it’ll set the tone for the rest of the season.”

In the offseason, the Colonels have gained a lot of new players. Sophomore forwards of Castro and Erickson, as well as Utter, believe that the new players will be a valuable asset to the team.

“Last year was our inaugural season, and it was challenging,” reflected Castro. “We only had nine players (seven skaters and two goalies). This season we have 20 players (17 skaters and three goalies). We have added a lot of new talent to the team, which will complement the returning players and make us much more competitive this season.”

Having more players is significant for the team, as they will be able to do a number of the things they were unable to do in their first-year as a program.

“With a full team, we will be able to do some plays that we could not do with the limited numbers we had last year,” explained Castro. “I look forward to being able to keep up with our opponents throughout the entire game this year.”

Erickson agrees with Castro and believes that their new teammates will set them up for success.

“I’m looking forward to having more players so we can start doing more systems and really competing against the other teams,” said Erickson. “We’ll have some solid lines going and we’ll be more fresh going into games.”

Another benefit will be giving the women time to rest, something that was not an option last season with only nine players.

“People will be able to rest,” explained Utter. “Other kids will get the opportunity to play college hockey.”

One of the people who will now have the opportunity to play is freshman Valerie Koenig.

Koenig and the other freshmen are excited to hit the ice and get things started, but also to have the chance to play alongside the returning players from the inaugural season.

“Ever since I visited last October, I was really excited to get the opportunity to play with the sophomores that are on the team currently,” said Koenig.

With the start of the season on the horizon, Utter hopes that the team will put in the work and compete with the same heart they had last year.

“I don’t have any expectations other than that because you can’t control outside influences,” said Utter. “If we do those things, I think we’ll be fine.”

The women feel well-prepared for the start of the season, and they’re excited to see what they can accomplish.

“The team is entirely different,” reflected Castro, a second-year player. “I’m excited to see what we can accomplish in our second year of the women’s ice hockey program.”

The Colonels will start the 2019-2020 season against North York Junior on Nov. 3 at the Toyota Sportsplex.