Tournament dreams within sight
Men’s ice hockey aiming for ACHA Tournament
Senior goalie Mike Musialowski (33) and the men’s ice hockey team take on St. Bonaventure on the road on Friday night and Rochester College at home on Saturday night as they look to make the ACHA national tournament. Courtesy of Dwayne Niewiemski
It doesn't get much better than scoring the game-winning goal in double overtime on the last game of the season for the league tournament championship. For the men's ice hockey team, that moment culminated a spectacular 2012-13 season. An unsuccessful regular season, however, kept them out of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national tournament.
The Bulls have not forgotten that even though they were tournament champions, their rival, Niagara, went on to play in the ACHA national tournament while they were left out.
The Bulls are aiming for vengeance this season as they battle for first place in the Northeast Collegiate Hockey League (NECHL). With only three games left in their regular season schedule, the Bulls (21-9, 11-2 NECHL) lead the NECHL with 34 points.
"The season has been great," said assistant coach Jeremy Kersten. "We have done all we can so far and now just need a little luck and help in the next few weeks."
The team has played especially well considering nine seniors graduated last season, creating a need for underclassmen to step up. The players and coaches have shown their resiliency all season - bouncing back from not only from the loss of senior leadership, but also a shaky 3-3 start to the season.
It has been a tight race between the top three teams in the NECHL, as reigning regular season champ No. 24 Niagara (15-9, 10-4 NECHL), No. 22 Syracuse (17-5, 10-2 NECHL) and Buffalo have gone back and forth in the standings. The Bulls have split meetings with both teams.
Those two losses have been the only blemishes for the Bulls in league play.
With three games left to play, the Bulls must continue their dominance if they want to advance to the ACHA tournament this year. A team can receive a bid to the tournament by finishing first in its regular season league standings or placing in the top 20 of the computer rankings. This is the first year the ACHA is using computer rankings over the coaches' poll to determine the at-large bids.
Buffalo is currently ranked No. 20, but the squad will need some help if it is going to get an automatic bid to the ACHA tournament. Despite splitting a two-game series with Syracuse last month, the Orange scored one more goal and own the tiebreaker. Desire alone cannot elevate a team to championship status. A winning squad needs talented players who can work together as a team, not just individually. The Bulls have both the desire and talent to win.
Junior forwards Brenden Robinson and Michael Schalberg have helped the Bulls to their impressive record so far this season. Robinson has tallied 55 points with 21 goals and 34 assists, while Schalberg has recorded 54 points with 25 goals and 29 assists.
Senior goalie Michael Musialowski has provided the Bulls with excellent goaltending all season, as he has put together an 8-5 record with two shutouts and 381 saves, averaging 2.92 goals allowed per game.
The future of Buffalo hockey is bright as freshman goalie Stephen Palmer has been reliable when called upon. His 6-1 record and team-best 2.57 goals against average has given the team an extra spark.
"These guys have really performed and have grown together as a team since August," Kersten said. "The coaching staff and players just hope we can continue this journey until mid-March."
The Bulls are on the road this Friday when they play St. Bonaventure (5-12, 4-8 NECHL) at 8:30 p.m. They will come back home Saturday to hit the ice with Rochester College (13-15) at the Northtown Center at 7:30 p.m.
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