Over this past weekend, most of our sports teams had away games. They brought back with them this winter wonderland, meaning no school, which most would take as a blessing. However, for the men’s Ice hockey team, that may have been the only blessing they took away from this weekend. Unfortunately, the Vikings ended up losing to Northland five to four in the final period. Let’s rewind back to the first.
I asked senior Josh Koepplinger to reflect on their first period: “Why were you guys so successful?” Josh replied by saying, “I think the work of my line mates lead to our success this weekend. We were around the net all weekend and we capitalized on our chances. We have developed some chemistry on the offensive side, and it showed.” At the end of the first period, the Vikings were winning 2-1.
In the second period, Northland managed to score three goals, and the Vikings could not keep up. The score was 4-2. I asked Koepplinger what he thought had happened in the second period and why it was so different from the first. Many Lawrence athletics teams tend to start rough and finish strong, but this situation was different, and I wanted to know why. Koepplinger said, “We had some breakdowns in the second period that led to them having some chances. We didn’t do a great job managing the momentum during that time and they capitalized. We knew we needed to have this game to give ourselves a good shot at the postseason. We continued to fight and battle, but we just came up a bit short. If the game was another minute longer, I would’ve liked our chances.” There was a lot riding on this game for the Vikings. No wonder they snapped back in it in the third and final period of the game.
The Vikings ended up scoring two more goals to tie it before a player from Northland also managed to score, making the final score 5-4. The Vikings were up in the first period, Northland conquered the second, but in the end, it all came down to those final minutes in the third period. The Vikings proved there was still hope and that if you do not give up when the times are tough or when your team hits rough patches, you have a shot at winning any game at any time.
I asked Koepplinger if he knew it was going to be a tough game, and he responded, “Northland has always been a gritty team. For as long as I have been here, they have had a physical, pesky team. They are a hard team to play in the rink, and they use their speed and transition game well.”
I asked him what the teams goal was for the season and if they had accomplished it yet or not. He responded by saying, “Our goal all season long has been to make the playoffs. We still have a shot, but we need to take it one game at a time. We play in the best conference in D3 hockey, in the toughest division and we take a lot of pride in the fact that we compete year in and year out.”
I asked Koepplinger when and how he started getting into playing hockey. He said, “I’ve played hockey since I was 3 years old, it’s been my life for as long as I can remember. My dad was my youth coach growing up, and he was the reason I started playing. I’ve loved the game ever since.” Many of the guys on the team have a similar story and show their character and determined heart when they go out and play each and every game to the best of their abilities.
Next, I interviewed Head Hockey Coach Michael Szkodzinski. I asked Coach Szkodzinski why he thought there was a lull for the Vikings in the second period. “We played a real solid first period, but they scored late and that can take the momentum away. They worked hard and got a couple of bounces that ended up in our net. We recovered, but just too late.”
Coach Szkodzinski brought up a good point: one of the hardest tasks to maintain during a game is the team’s overall momentum. If even one person or one thing is out of line, it throws the whole system into disarray. These moments are the real game changers. The plan is that next time, the Vikings will regain their momentum quicker and as a unit.
I asked Coach Szkodzinski what he thought they needed to improve upon for next time. He said, “We have to continue to work on staying focused for 60 minutes and making strong plays. At times, we tend to get ‘too cute’ and that can lead to turnovers. When we play simple and strong—we can play with anyone.”
Coach Szkodzinski ended by saying, “To me, hockey is a sport that reveals character. It is a game that must be played the right way or success will not happen. The speed and physicality is like no other sport. There is so much emotion put in to every single game, and players show their true colors in the most important times.” Coach Szkodzinski’s experience as a player, his passion for the game and his undeniable need to share his knowledge and love of the game with others is why he continues to spend his life, year after year, coaching the Vikings. Lawrence is lucky to have him.
All in all, whether it turned out to be a blessing or a curse, the good news is that their game against Northland did not knock them out of the running for making the playoffs. It still seems like the Vikings have a long way to go, but if they remain positive as a collective group, success is not too far off in their future.