After winning two of three to start their inaugural campaign, the Long Island University Men’s Ice Hockey team had been struggling to keep that momentum going and dropped their next four games.
LIU has managed to curb the skid by beating Army 3-2 in overtime in their last divisional game. Their recent struggles are the sign of a young team trying to work out the kinks during an unusual first season.
While LIU did drop their exhibition game to Liberty University on Friday, the victory over Army was a win that showed the progress the program has made.
“We have a lot of character, and I think that has shined through this entire season.” Coach Brett Riley said in an email interview with NYI Hockey Now. “To kill off another penalty in overtime and end the game in that fashion is a testament to our competitive culture and the character we have in our room.”
LIU’s penalty kill had been struggling prior to the victory, sitting at just 71.8 percent. In the win, LIU killed off all six of Army’s power plays, and in their exhibition game on Friday they were a perfect 2-for-2.
The biggest concern, which is a glaring issue, has been LIU’s inability to come through on the man advantage. After seven games, the power play was a whopping 1 for 21 (4.76%). In the win, LIU came through once on their five opportunities, pushing that mark to 8-percent. In the exhibition game, they saw four power-play opportunities go by the board.
“Our hope is to continue to improve on the powerplay and bounce back to where we were on the penalty kill,” said Riley. “I’d love to see our freshman continue with the positive momentum they’ve built as a class and our older guys continue to lead by example. It has been a fun group to coach that has always responded well to being challenged.”
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In the overtime victory, a pair of freshmen left their mark. Jacob Franczak scored twice in 90 seconds for his first, and second, collegiate goals, while Jordan Di Cicco scored the game-winner for his first of his college career.
“It felt really great to get the first one, almost a dream come true, and then the second one, I have to give a lot of credit to Derik Osik, who made a really nice pass, said Franczak. “Overall, a really exciting experience I’ll never forget, and it made it even better getting the win.”
For Di Cicco, he came through in the biggest of moments for his team.
“Being able to end the game in overtime was an unreal feeling,” said Di Cicco. “There’s no better feeling than being a part of a big celebration with teammates. We knew we needed a better effort than Friday night, and I thought a lot of guys stepped up to the plate, which was great to see. It was a huge team effort, and we were really happy to get the win for Coach Riley.”
Both Franczak and Di Cicco agreed that the win over Army was a sign of the progress the LIU hockey program has been making over the course of the season. Di Cicco called the victory a huge win for the team coming off the losses.
“We are confident in ourselves, and we know that we can compete with anyone when we are playing our best,” Di Cicco said. “With that being said, there is still a lot that we can learn from in this win. We talked about playing a full sixty minutes, and we gave up a two-goal lead late in the game. We know we can be better and will continue to watch film and improve.”
While the steps the LIU hockey team is taking are positive, their work is far from over.
“We are far from satisfied,” Di Cicco said. “Our culture is built around a 24/7, 365 idea, which means we are looking to get better and improve every single day. Our team has made a huge jump in the short time that we have been together, and I believe we are starting to form a solid team identity.”
Even with a losing record of 3-5, LIU has shown that they are deserving of Division I status in the eyes of Riley.
“More so than wins and losses, we have proven we belong at this level,” said Riley. “Now the challenge to the group is sustaining momentum.”
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