The icemen: UB men's ice hockey team starts season 2-0
Team looks to continue last season's success
With all of the Buffalo sports about to start Week One of Mid-American Conference play, one of the more successful teams at UB kicked off its regular season with two blowout victories.
The team isn’t even a part of Buffalo’s Division I sports program. But one could argue it’s the best team on campus this year as it just finished its best campaign in over a decade.
Now, they’re back for more.
The UB men’s ice hockey team, fresh off its first American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Tournament appearance in a decade, is back for the 2015-16 regular season with new players but the same goals.
The Bulls (2-0) are coming off two dominant performances to start the season as they defeated Slippery Rock (1-1) 8-2 and Duquesne 5-1. Both performances had several Buffalo players scoring multiple points – much to the surprise of head coach Sal Valvo.
“It’s a bit early to start projecting for the entire year,” Valvo said, “But I like the way we played offensively so far. With so many new players entering our program and moving up into larger roles, I was impressed with our goal scoring so far. We’ve had quite a few different players putting the puck in the back of the net.”
The hockey team is not one of the NCAA-sanctioned Division-I programs that UB offers – it is instead a club team under the Student Association. No players are on scholarship or get the perks of a Division-I athlete.
That could change in the future, as at least some UB Athletics donors seem to like the idea of varsity hockey at UB. Dr. Burt Rubin, who committed to a $1.5 million bequest to UB Athletics last week, told The Spectrum he hopes to one day see an addition of a varsity hockey program in a hockey town like Buffalo. Tunney Murchie, a former UB hockey player, donated a record $3 million to UB Athletics in 2014.
But for now, the Bulls are still working toward that point and have a long way to go. The only thing the team can do is succeed on ice. And there’s been a lot of that since the beginning of last season.
Senior forward Eric Nestler said the team will need more practice time in order to gel and create cohesion.
“Coach [Valvo] is right, we’re about six practices in and each practice is about getting to know each other out there,” Nestler said. “We just need to continue to work and gel as a group. We have some new rookies, some new faces and we’re hoping we can we can make it work quickly.”
The Bulls are coming off a season where they finished 25-6-1 and made an ACHA Division-I Tournament appearance – the first honor for the Bulls in a decade. The Bulls earned the No. 17 seed but lost to No. 16 Colorado in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
With the regular season underway, Valvo said the goal is to get back there this season, but expressed potential concerns with his younger players. Still, the Bulls have a ton of depth, including the return of a plethora of defenders.
The defense will be key for Buffalo, as its top-six defensemen return. Senior Sean Dungan leads the charge, coming off a season where he scored 33 points and seven goals on the year. Senior Dimitrios Koutsomitis is another defenseman that has provided a flash for the Bulls thus far this season, as he scored two goals in his first two games.
At the top of the roster, the Bulls have three players with at least four points. Forwards Willie Sanchez, Gavin Evancho and Robert Lang are moving up into more of a leadership role on the roster, as all three are expected to lead the offense.
Valvo saw them as vital members and “players that our young guys could look up to.”
“For sure, their fast start is definitely important,” Valvo said. “They’re all so experienced, so they need to continue to show our guys how to work hard on and off the ice – practices, classroom, everything. Their hard work shows our young guys how things need to be done and that hard work can pay off.”
As one of the team’s leaders, Lang started off strong with two goals and two assists in two games. As a senior, he wants to experience something he’s never experienced before: winning the Northeast Collegiate Hockey League.
“My biggest goal this year to win the conference,” Lang said. “We have a good team and we have the experience to make it far. Making it to Nationals is the main goal, but making it as conference champions would be amazing.”
Valvo echoed that sentiment.
“Our seniors never got to experience that,” Valvo said, “so we’d like to compete for our league’s championship.”
The Bulls stay home to face Michigan-Dearborn University (4-0) at the Northtown Center on Friday. The puck will drop at 7:30 p.m.
Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com.