Pioneers Hockey Overcomes Towson, Remains Undefeated

Physical Play and Hard Work Highlight Pioneers’ Fourth Win

John Fiorino, Entertainment Editor

WAYNE, N.J.- The William Paterson Pioneers ice hockey team defeated the Towson Tigers at the Ice Vault on Friday night by a score of 3-1 to remain undefeated. This matchup comes off the heels of a physical game in Towson, MD last Sunday when WPU took that game by a score of 2-1.

From the drop of the puck the game was filled with aggressiveness and what some would call “old time hockey;” a physical, hard-working style of hockey instead of a flashy, fast-paced one.

Towson immediately  came after William Paterson with a strong, relentless forecheck. The Tigers pushed pucks in deep and tried to control the puck along the side boards but the Pioneers’ defense would not budge. Led by senior captain Cory Sala, the defense made sure Towson would have to earn every inch of ice by playing physical. Senior forward D.J. Sabato explained that both clubs knew what was coming.

“There was really no feeling out period like there usually is, we just played them last week so we knew what was in store,” Sabato said.

What followed was a hard-working game where both clubs would bend but not break. Towson took a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period and despite seeing the Tigers aggressive style of play, Pioneers’ head coach Joe Ballance had faith in his team’s tight defense.

“We have good defenseman who can handle the pressure,” Ballance said. “I thought they did a good job being be able to move the pucks up quickly.”

In the second period, the puck was being swung around the ice by the Pioneers who were buzzing in the offensive zone when Sala took a shot from the point and Sabato deflected it into the top of the net to tie the score at one. In the ensuing minutes the Pioneers saw an opportunity to run away with the game constructing multiple scoring chances but to no avail.

Entering the third period with the score tied 1-1, Ballance needed to make an in-game adjustment in order to ensure that WPU would come out on top.

“On our forecheck we like to create pressure on the walls and create turnovers there,” Ballance said. “We want to win that point of attack and keep the play within their zone.”

In addition to the board play in the offensive zone, an aspect the Pioneers touched up was their passing. Instead of trying to force pucks up the middle or make a cross-ice saucer pass, WPU used the wings and vertical passing lanes to their advantage. Sabato reinforced the technique of  keeping the game in a “north-south” format which the Pioneers exceed at.

“Good teams are going to pick off the cross-ice pass, and put it in your net and that one goal can be the difference at Nationals,” Sabato said. “We’re more of a north-south team where we just play hard north and south hockey, that’s our game.”

Neither team would strike again until the early third period when Pioneers’ senior forward James Bobb would put the puck past Towson netminder Bryan Canter, who stopped 31 of 34 shots on the night. Senior goaltender Jordan Hulahan had to come up large with a left pad save on a one-timer opportunity that came in from the low-middle slot. The stop was made only a minute after the Pioneers took the 2-1 lead.

For Sabato, the close game is nothing new. He believed this will be a good lesson for the future, specifically on a bigger stage like Nationals where they play teams of the same caliber as Towsen.

“In the playoffs all games are one-goal games so you have to learn how to close those out and do the little things to grind it out and end it,” Sabato said. “These are the teams we want to play to get us ready for Nationals when we see the Grand Valley’s and the Florida Gulf Coast’s.”

Towards the end of the game the tensions were boiling with the Pioneers up 3-1 and both teams continuing to play belligerent. With the game in the waning minutes, two players got tangled up near the Pioneers’ net and started throwing punches at each other and tussling on the ice. Normally, when a fight ensues it leads to a 10 minute game misconduct penalty and a one game suspension to be served immediately. Instead, the four players involved were each served with two minute roughing penalties. Sala explained that what he saw wasn’t all that bad.

“I think two guys got tangled up and the frustration leads from there,” Sala said. “A kid got punched in the face so he’s obviously going to defend himself. I see nothing wrong with it.”

The Pioneers have a week off and then they travel to Annapolis, Maryland to play back-to-back games with Division I opponent, Navy. While this is a big test for WPU, Sala has faith that the Pioneers will be hard to beat if they bring their A-game.

“They’re Navv so they’re going to be fast, now we have a week off so we have time to rest any injuries so we’ll be ready to go and as long as we keep our feet moving we’re going to be hard to beat,” Sala said.