Club hockey team caps successful season at regionals

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Club hockey team caps successful season at regionals

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The Saint Louis University club hockey team ended the most successful season in program history against their rival Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville on Saturday, Feb. 26. The Billikens went on a great run in the beginning of February, which catapulted them to the top of the league standings and eventually their first conference championship.

From Nov. 19 until their game against SIUE, the Billikens were 14-1 overall. Their only loss during that streak came against a strong Illinois State team at the Pepsi Ice Center on Jan. 29 by a tally of 4-2.

On Feb. 5, the Billikens took on the in-state rival Missouri Tigers at Washington Park Ice Arena at Mizzou. The game ended in a 9-2 win for the Billikens. SLU dominated the entire game, especially in the third, when the team scored four unanswered goals and ran away with the victory.

That next day, the Bills played the Tigers again, this time on their home ice in St. Louis, the Webster- Groves Ice Arena.

“That was the toughest turnaround for us all season. We arrived back on campus around 1 a.m., got six or seven hours of sleep, then had to be back at our arena at 10 a.m. to prepare for game two,” sophomore Johnny Moore said.

That quick turnaround might explain why the rematch was a little closer than the Bills might have liked. The game ended in a 6-5 victory for the Billikens and a sweep of the archrival Tigers. Freshman forward Brent Wingerter netted two goals for the Billikens in the victory.

On Feb. 12 and 13, SLU hosted the University of Kansas Jayhawks in their final home contest of the season.

In the first game, the Billikens locked up their third victory in a row with a 4-2 win. The Billikens were happy to play in front of a raucous hometown crowd, but did not play their best hockey on Saturday afternoon. Senior Phil Blackwood had a strong showing with one goal and two assists.

The next day, the Billikens came ready to play once again and marched on to a dominating victory against the Jayhawks. Graduate student Andrew Wiltz had a fantastic game for the Billikens with two goals and two assists. Sophomore Eric Wendt also had two goals in the Billikens’ 8-3 victory.

With this victory, the Billikens locked up their first ever Mid-American College Hockey Association (MACHA) regular season championship. The skating Bills headed into the MACHA tournament playoffs with a lot of confidence both on and off the ice.

In their first playoff game, the Billikens matched up against the Missouri State Bears, a team that they previously beat twice during the regular season, at the Owens Center in Peoria, Ill.

The Billikens were down early in the third period, 5-4.With time running short, SLU’s third leading scorer Moore took it upon himself to motivate his teammates and propelled the team towards a Billiken victory.

Moore scored a hat trick in the third period alone, a remarkable feat. He tied the game with a one-time slap shot from Blackwood. Moore put the Billikens ahead on the power play as he shoved in a loose puck on the short side of the goalie. The last goal of Moore’s hat trick came thanks to a lot of hard work by junior Charlie Garavaglia. Garavaglia was up against the boards with two defenders and squeaked a pass through the defenders to get the puck to Moore in the slot, who put it in the back of the net.

The next step of the journey was a match up with another big-time rival of the Billikens, the SIUE Cougars. This was the third matchup between these two rivals, and the Cougars have come out on top for both of the previous meetings.

The rivalry is played at a fast pace, with both sides giving 100 percent. There is a lot at stake, most notably pride, and the players understand that.

“Everyone is giving 110 percent every single shift, and when you hit someone, you want to put them through the boards,” Moore said.

Three periods was not enough time to find a winner in this rivalry. The Billikens brought extreme pressure in the overtime period, putting 20 shots on goal in just a single overtime period. It was just a matter of time before the Billikens put one in given their offensive opportunities.

Junior Paul Goodwin put the puck in the back of the net two minutes into the overtime period, securing a No. 5 seed in the regional playoffs for the Billikens. That goal also captured the Billikens first ever MACHA Playoff Championship.

Blackwood was named the tournament MVP to go along with the Billikens league championship.

In the regional playoffs, on Feb. 26, the Billikens met the Cougars again, but this time on different ice. The regional playoffs are held in Chicago, Ill., at the Northbrook Ice Rink. The bitter rivals squared off with the Billikens as the No. 5 seed and SIUE as No. 8.

Things were not looking good for the Bills heading into the final frame, with a 3-2 score in favor of the Cougars at the end of the second period. In the third, the Billikens fell victim to the whistle, earning multiple penalties and giving the Cougars even more offensive chances via the power play. With the man advantages, SIUE poured it on. The game ended in a 7-2 loss for the Billikens, their first since Jan. 9.

“It was an uncharacteristic loss for us, we just didn’t have our best game; it was unfortunate it had to happen there at regionals,” Wendt said.

The next step for the 2011-2012 Billikens’ club hockey team this season is a minicamp in April. Recruits from all over the country will come to Webster Groves Ice Arena to try to prove why they deserve to be on next year’s Billikens hockey team. This minicamp gives head coach Todd Ewen a chance to see what next year’s team will look like.

In 2011-2012, the Billikens will return four of their top five scores from this season’s team. In addition, they will look for younger players to step into leadership opportunities. The sky is the limit for the Billikens hockey team, and the 2011-2012 season looks very promising.