Written By: Analisa Vizzoni
I had the opportunity to sit down with three players to talk about the team’s recent trip to Nationals in Chicago! Seniors, Matt Santucci and Nick Ustaski, and sophomore, Max Freeman, gave me the inside scoop on everything Nationals related.
Going to Chicago, UD was ranked fourteenth in the tournament. They worked hard this season to earn their spot there. Last year, the team didn’t make the cut for the tourney. “We had about the same record heading into winter session as we did last year, but we went on a terror in winter session,” said Matt. In 2016, the team only lost two regulation games, “we were winning games we were supposed to win,” Max added. The whole team bought into the idea of going to Nationals this year. Nick noted that the atmosphere was different, “kids wanted to win, knew the importance of representing Delaware Hockey” and they all knew how important it was to get there.
In the weeks leading up to the tournament, the team practiced hard and came together. Going into it, it was “a faceless opponent, we didn’t know anything about the teams we played,” Max said. Anxiety ran through all of them, and so did “the fear of going there and losing the first game like our team did since the last time we won a national championship” Matt said. “When they finally got there, it was a totally different atmosphere. “Everything was hockey, and we only had one thing in mind,” Max said. “There were no distractions,” Nick added, “We had the drive to win at least one game.”
The team’s first game was on Thursday, March 3rd against the # 19 Mercyhurst Lakers. “In the first period we had to get rid of the jitters,” Max said. “In the 5v5 play, we dominated,” Matt noted, “We probably should’ve scored more, and made more opportunities.” Nick added that because they knew nothing about Mercyhurst, “we had to go out and play the best game we could, and then make adjustments when needed.” At the end of regulation, the score of the game was 2-2, and the game ended up going into a double overtime. Vinny Zingarelli scored the winning goal in the second overtime period. “It said a lot about our team when we got a 5 minute penalty in the first overtime period, but we stuck it through to come back and win it in the second overtime,” Matt said.
After advancing to the second round, they matched up against the #3 Lindenwood Lions. “We went in knowing in that they were a high ranked team, and it was going to be a very competitive game,” Nick said. “It was their first game of the tournament, so they were just ready,” Matt added. The team needed to gain back their strength after playing a game the day before that went into double overtime. After the first period, the Hens were able to settle down and play well. At the end of the second, the score was 4-1, Lions. In the third, UD scored again to bring it to a two point deficit. Lindenwood scored a fifth goal, but Delaware tried to challenge it for having too many men on the ice. “We scored a minute later, so if the goal didn’t count, the score would’ve been 4-3 which would have made it a totally different game,” Matt said. The final score was 6-3, Lindenwood. “Their whole starting lineup was foreign, so being an ACHA team that’s kind of interesting,” Max noted. Lindenwood went on to win the National tournament. “It was important that the younger guys got to play the game against LU because they learned what it takes and how to play to be that good. For young guys to be thrown into that kind of situation, it really helped them grow up and base their game off of how Lindenwood plays,” Matt said. “It was a great effort by our team and a step in the right direction for this program,” Nick said.
Nationals wrapped up the hen’s season, and it was a great season to say the least. When asked if there were any players that stood out to them during the tournament, Vinny Zingarelli and Cole Zucker came to mind. Max added, “I hate to say it, but Nick with the two goals against Lindenwood.”
Matt and Nick reflected on their experience as a whole here. “Obviously we would’ve liked to go out with a championship but this team went through a lot this past year and honestly people were doubting us going into the season and it felt good to prove them wrong so yeah. I think that we left the program better than when I came into it even financially,” Matt said. “I think, as the President, we brought a lot back to leave it in a good place for next season. We got hockey known again on campus so I’m excited to see where the younger guys will take us. Just replace a couple bodies and coach says there’s some good recruits so that will be great for the team,” Nick said.
With Max being the only one of the three returning, he said, “Definitely think we are going to make nationals next year. We are just a couple defensemen and forwards away to being the one of the top five programs in the nation. We have the best goalie in the ACHA who will be a senior next year, top returning forwards, and an excellent young d core.” He also added, “I’m excited for Bill Williams to fill the Rust with energy again next season and truly Unleash the Beast!!!”
The team now looks forward to the UD Hockey Golf Outing and Team Banquet on April 23rd. Sign up now!!!