Pioneers Hockey Falls Short at Nationals, SECHL All-Star Weekend Up Next

An ice hockey season wrap-up and how hockey is more than a game.

Courtesy of

John Fiorino, Entertainment Editor

WAYNE, N.J. — The William Paterson Pioneers men’s ice hockey team couldn’t pull through at the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament in Columbus, Ohio in the third game of the opening round robin against the Grand Valley State University Lakers.

Going into the third period, the Pioneers and Lakers were tied at one in a back and forth game. William Paterson senior, James Bobb, struck early on the short side of the goaltender, giving the Pioneer a 2-1 lead. Things are looking up for the Pioneers as they were being outshot and the goal early in the third could have shifted the tide. Instead, Grand Valley did not go quietly.

In a span of six minutes at the midway point of the period, Grand Valley converted three times, taking a 4-2 lead. William Paterson senior, Edmund Coxe, started a comeback in the waning minutes of the third, when he put a shot past the Grand Valley goaltender. Unfortunately, it would not be enough, and the Pioneers fell 4-3. William Paterson goaltender, senior, Gary Schoeppler was in net for the final game at Nationals.

“They’re just a hard working team and they fought just as much as we did,” Schoeppler said. “I think their relentless effort finally paid off and they took advantage of their chances. They’re a fast team and they move the puck across the width of the rink often, which makes them dangerous.”

William Paterson’s defeat led to Grand Valley winning the pool. They battled the winner of Pool C, Liberty University, who then won by a score of 4-3. Liberty University played Pool B winner and Super East Collegiate Hockey League rival, New York University in the finals. NYU took home the title on March 19 by defeating Liberty University by a score of 4-3.

The SECHL, which went 7-3-1 for the best league record at Nationals, will play the other ACHA Men’s Division 2 leagues around the nation from April 7-9 during the SECHL All-Star Weekend. Representing the Pioneers are: Sabato, Bobb, junior, Cory Sala, junior, Jordan Hulahan, junior, Shawn Lacorte (first team honors) and sophomore, Cody Calcagno. The Pioneers are tied with the most representation on their all-star roster tied with the University of New Hampshire Wildcats with six players.

As emotional as it was, one thing to take away from this Nationals appearance is the experience. For the freshman and the sophomores, the experience will help them know what to expect next time around. Bobb has a piece of advice on the duration of the season for the incoming freshman and young players in the program.

“The season is a long battle, no championships are won in September or October, but the best team in March is the one that will be holding the trophy,” Bobb said.

Head Coach, Joe Ballance, is proud of his group of young men and how they played this season. He is confident next season’s team can take the experience at Nationals and utilize it into a positive lesson. Ballance, while he does not focus on regular season success too much, will always remember the 2017 William Paterson Pioneers as the team that proved doubters wrong.

“The expectations for us were low and we proved a lot of people wrong this season by performing strong in the regular season and obtaining the #1 rank,” Ballance said.

Hockey is more than people ice skating on 1/8″ blades trying to shoot a frozen rubber puck into a net. Hockey mends people together, truly making a “team mentality.” It creates friends and bonds that otherwise people may not have. Junior, Daniel Sabato, will never forget the seniors he played with this season.

“I can tell you I’m going to miss them all like crazy,” Sabato said. “They’re all good hockey players and even better friends. They had a great year. I hope they stick around the program and everyone stays in touch.”

However, Sabato, and every other player, credits much of their success and chemistry to the man behind it all. Coach Ballance. The players respect Ballance as a coach, buy into his system on the ice and know that off the ice, he is there for them. He even helps them get ready for interviews and aid them with their resumé. Sabato doesn’t want anyone to go unnoticed though. He credits the assistant coaches with the same attributes by  saying, “Coach Kyle and Coach Ian are the same way.” For Schoeppler, who has known Ballance since he was ten, it is a bit more special.

“I always found him to hold multiple titles to me: a mentor, a role model, a friend and that’s what made him a great coach,” Schoeppler said. “He was capable of being close to his players and still receive tremendous respect for the boys as their knowledgeable head coach.”

Graduation is next for the seniors which will come up in May. Jobs like sales and marketing are on the table for some. However, they don’t want to go without letting the young players know a few things. Schoeppler reminds the future goaltenders what the game is all about.

“Evolve your game. Goaltenders in the NHL are constantly changing their style or techniques for a reason,” Schoeppler said. “Believe in yourself, your team, and your coaches. Most importantly, always remember why you’re playing the game: because it’s fun and you love it.”

Coach Ballance salutes everyone involved with this season from players to fans, and has a message before preparation for next season begins.

“I’d like to thank the seniors for their efforts over the years, especially this last season,” Ballance said. “For those coming back, I look forward to working with them to get back to this point and being successful.  I am confident we will be back and successful, but it will be a lot of hard work and battles along the way.”