Sweat dripped onto the misty ice amid a crowd of over 1,000 screaming fans as a small Jesuit school stood toe-to-toe with No. 5 Ohio University heading into overtime. This was just the first game of the 2013-14 season for John Carroll University’s club hockey team.
The Blue Streaks headed into the season with high hopes after capturing their first College Hockey Mid-America (CHMA) conference title and a trip to the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament last season.
The Blue Streaks also posted their second 20-win season in a row last year. Their sudden bombardment of the CHMA has made the Blue Streaks a team to fear this season.
“We are going to get every team’s best shot every night,” JCU assistant coach Andrew Wisniewski said before the season. “Teams aren’t going to take us lightly, and we need to be ready to take that on every time we play.”
Wisniewski’s prediction soon proved to be correct. The Blue Streaks battled tooth and nail with No. 5 Ohio University in front of a packed Bird Arena in Athens, Ohio on Friday. Sept. 20.
The Bobcats took an early 1-0 lead in the first period, but the Blue and Gold would not back down. JCU took advantage of a power play, as senior defenseman Matt Curry scored to tie the game at one in the first period.
Capitalizing on the momentum, freshman forward Kevin Vinyard posted a pair of goals to put JCU up 3-1 and turn the crowd noise down a notch.
Both teams kept up the offensive onslaught for the remainder of the game. The Bobcats scored next, cutting their deficit to one, 3-2, heading into the second period.
The scoring frenzy continued in the second. Freshman Logan Lopicka put JCU up by a pair, but Ohio tallied two goals, one in the second and another in the third, before the end of regulation to send the contest into overtime.
Senior forward Dan Potter ended the scorefest in overtime, cutting through the defense for the game-clinching score and a 5-4 win.
“It takes a lot of effort to have enough left in the tank to make that final push in overtime,” Potter said. “That win was huge. It was the biggest win in our team’s history. It proves that we have the talent to compete with anyone in the nation this year.”
Though the Blue Streaks dropped a nail-biter to the Bobcats the next day in a 2-1 overtime shootout, they did not lose an ounce of confidence.
Friday, Sept. 27 marked the team’s home opener, as the Blue Streaks took on Mercyhurst College, their league rival and main challenger for a national bid, at Gilmour Academy Ice Arena. The game was another battle to the end, but JCU’s veteran leadership came in hand and led to 3-2 victory over the visiting Lakers.
Reigning ACHA Coach of the Year Chris Wilk was pleased with the victory over Mercyhurst.
“It was a big win and Mercyhurst will be one of our biggest challenges this season,” Wilk said. “They took it to us and put us on our heels, but we pulled through with the big goals when it mattered.”
This victory was followed by a 4-1 thrashing of Oswego State the following day, taking the Blue Streaks to a 3-1 record heading into October.
With a quick start to the season and only three starters lost from last season, the Blue Streaks have both the veteran leadership and young talent to make a run for nationals again this season.
“The outlook for the season right now is unbelievably optimistic,” sophomore forward Tyler Potts said. “As long as we play our game going forward and don’t get too overconfident, the sky is the limit for us.”
The return of several key veterans, such as Potts, Potter and senior goalie Justin Camuto, gives JCU a veteran presence, while an assortment of tough and talented freshman give the Blue Streaks added depth.
Heading into the remainder of the season, there is plenty of optimism, but also a realistic pursuit for improvement.
“More scoring is going to be necessary and we need to be consistent throughout the entire season,” Wilk said. “We have a lot of depth, a tough offense and a lot of experience playing at a higher level.”
With this blueprint, the Blue Streaks will have the opportunity to light it up plenty of times this season.