Vikings fight until the bitter end

All six men protecting their goal, even as the clock wound down on their last game of the season.

Photo by Quinten Giglio.

This past weekend, the Lawrence University men’s hockey team ended their season with a couple of hard losses against Northland College and the College of St. Scholastica. This last Saturday, the final game of the season and the last home game of the season, was also the night that the seniors of the team were honored for their years at Lawrence and their achievements during their collegiate hockey career. The Vikings finished their season with an overall record of five wins, 18 losses and two ties, and a conference record of three wins, 13 losses and two ties. Compared to last year, where they had 10 wins, 15 losses and two ties overall, the team did not perform as well, but they still made progress by incorporating underclassmen in the mix and creating a new foundation for the Vikings as they look ahead to next year’s competition. However, the focus on the future of the program shall be saved for later as we look at the last two games of the 2018-19 hockey season.

On Friday, the Vikings fell to Northland in a close game with a final score of 4-2. The Vikings fell behind early in the game during the first period. Northland was able to pull ahead within the first minute and scored another goal before the Vikings were able to cut Northland’s lead with a goal from senior Josh Koepplinger, which was assisted by junior Jake Drinkard. By the end of the first period, the Vikings were at a single-goal deficit, but were able to tie it up on a powerplay goal from sophomore Cole Essig, assisted by Koepplinger and senior Nick Felan. Unfortunately, Northland pulled ahead at the end of the second period and finished the game with a two-point lead. The Vikings’ efforts at the goal have continued to prove unfruitful despite having about the same shots on goal as Northland: the Vikings had 33 shots on goal, and Northland had 34.

On Saturday, senior night for four of the Vikings, Lawrence fell to St. Scholastica with a score of 5-4. For the second night in a row, the Vikings efforts to drive to the goal, as they have done for the entire season, fell short again, even for the fact that they outshot St. Scholastica 38-30. The Vikings pulled ahead in the first period early on with a goal from freshman Charles Stewart with an assist from Drinkard. St. Scholastica tied up the game a little bit halfway through the first period, but a short minute after that, the Vikings jumped ahead on a powerplay goal from freshman Vincent Dekumbis, with an assist from Koepplinger and junior Evan Ketner. St. Scholastica proceeded to go on a four-goal run in the second period, but by the third period the Vikings were able to stop this run with a powerplay goal from Koepplinger. This goal marked Koepplinger’s tenth goal of the season and also cut St. Scholastica’s lead to 5-3. Senior Tomas Vesely scored the fourth and final goal with assists from junior Daniel Gysi and Koepplinger. This goal was Vesely’s first NCAA hockey goal, and it just so happened to be in the final period of his final NCAA game. In an attempt to draw the game into overtime, the Vikings tried to pull senior goalie Greg Procopio, but failed to do so. Still, they prevented St. Scholastica from scoring in the final thirty seconds of the game.

Rarely do the Vikings play from an advantage over other teams, which means that their pick-up game is crucial to their success in all games. Despite this observation, it is plain to see in the two final games of the season that the Vikings really flourished in the aspects of the game that they were really focused on: driving towards the net, effective powerplays and teamwork. More often than not, crucial points for Lawrence came from powerplay goals, but not everything could be evened out by these points. The puck never really favored the Vikings, but they still drove to the net, outshot St. Scholastica and were on par with Northland for their efforts. The Vikings would not have been able to keep up with their competitors had they not created a strong working system together, nor would they have created as many opportunities on goal if they were working individually.

As the season comes to an end, so has the time for the collegiate hockey careers of the Vikings’ seniors. Their leadership and hard work has led their teammates to a new foundation, and in their absence, their teammates will pick up where they have left off and usher in a new crowd of freshmen.