Pioneers Drop Divison I Debut Against West Chester Despite Strong Performance


courtesy of Cameron Dodds.

John Fiorino, Production Manager

The William Paterson men’s ice hockey team dropped its Division 1 debut Saturday against West Chester University 5-4 in a nail-biter six-round shootout.

It didn’t look promising for the Pioneers through two periods and down 3-2. William Paterson couldn’t get much going thanks to the tight defense of West Chester. The Golden Rams kept the Pioneers at and around the blueline, forcing them to dump the puck frequently. This resulted in William Paterson chasing the puck and battling in the corner, creating a sporadic offense.

One bright spot of the second period was the breakaway goal by Pioneers forward Mike King. Goals are always important, but this one kept William Paterson alive. The Golden Rams were buzzing in the Pioneers zone and constantly putting pressure on in the neutral zone. This goal shifted the momentum of the game. The sequence of the play is what had head coach Joe Ballance impressed and pleased by doing the little things.

“It started by causing a good turnover through good neutral zone positioning,” Ballance said. “It was something we executed correctly and built on going into the third.”

When the Pioneers finally broke through midway through the third, the Golden Rams quickly answered just over a minute later on a deflection to make it 4-3. Thanks to late game heroics by senior forward Todd Unger, William Paterson tied it up at four with four minutes to play.

“I went to dish it to (Hunter) Ledwith, a couple bounces went my way, I got lucky and it went over the glove,” Unger said.

The 3-on-3 overtime had open play and exciting chances for both teams, including a 2-on-1 chance for the Pioneers, which they couldn’t convert on. It was then that the Pioneers would enter their first shootout since the 2014-15 season when they lost against University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In the fifth round, Pioneers forward Tyler Steimel was robbed when the opposing netminder took away the top corner and snatched the puck with his glove. After falling in the next round, despite the loss, William Paterson proved it can play with the best the ACHA Divison I has to offer.

With 14 new faces on the team, the Pioneers will need players to step up throughout the season. Freshman goalie Jeremy Hamerquist got the nod for opening day and he did not disappoint. Coming from a junior league team in Florida, the 5-foot-10 goaltender saw the puck well in his first collegiate game. Hamerquist stopped 37 shots, remained calm in scrambles in front of the net and denied five of six shootout attempts.

“Hamerquist gave us a chance to win that game, especially in the shootout,” Ballance said.

The young netminder settled down early, and eventually, it became “just another game.”

“When you get that first one or two shots and you start feeling the puck, then you start building your confidence from the first one or two saves,” Hamerquist said.

While young-gun Hamerquist stepped up, veteran forward Unger was impressed with what his team put together.

“With the number of new faces that we have I think today was a really good showing by us,” Unger said. “I have very high expectations for this team.”

Even though it was the first game of Division I play, William Paterson’s game was far from perfect. With the next two games against Stony Brook on Oct. 7 and Oct. 8, coach Ballance has specific facets of the game that he wants his team to improve on. Specifically, cleaning up any messes in their own zone.

“The ability to get pucks out of our zone is important,” Ballance said. “There were too many turnovers in our zone where we cannot afford to have a turnover.”

Hamerquist has only played one game with William Paterson so far, but he was impressed with how well the team played overall against its opponent. If the team can find consistency, then the Pioneers appear up for the challenge.

“It’s all going to come together,” Hamerquist said. “I think we showed tonight that we can play at this level.”