NJIT ARE THE CHAMPIONS!
Co-Captain Colin McArdle scores late in OT for the Highlanders'
By: Patrick M. Alvarado
SOMERSET, NJ -- It began with the sound of metal. The loud roars came down from the stands, the fans chanting for Muhlenberg’s victory as they were certain the puck went in to win the game. However, what happened next you simply cannot script.
Out from the corner the official waves his arms signaling for “no
goal” and suddenly the silence settled in, you can hear a pin drop.
The fans on both sides were stunned; they could not believe what they just saw. Suddenly, things sprung back to life and goaltender Michael Lipinski stood tall as Muhlenberg looked to continue their attack.
Reanimated, the fans let the Highlanders know their appreciation for not letting it end. Getting the puck back, the Highlanders went on the attack. Rob Amos managed to steal an outlet pass and then pushed the puck up to linemate Nick Wujek, who passed it off to captain Colin McArdle. The race began, and for Colin and the rest of the Highlanders what happened next will never be forgotten, as the NJIT captain roofed the puck home, winning the Great Northeast Collegiate Hockey Comference championship game in a thrilling 3-2 OT decision.
It was the only way this weekend would’ve ended for the Highlanders, who over the three rounds of playoff hockey showed they were not to be taken lightly, despite the past. For three days this was a different Highlander team. They were fast, they were smart, they scored goals, they prevented goals, and most importantly they stood up for one another, and didn’t allow anyone to run over them without being ready to pay a price.
These Highlanders were destined to be champions from the first day of the playoffs when they faced off against LaSalle in the GNCHC Eastern Division Semifinals. Those who remember, NJIT tied LaSalle 5-5 in their last meeting, and as promised they started right where they left off two weeks ago.
LaSalle’s heavy hitting tactics were expected by the Highlanders as
they incorporated some heavy hitting of their own. LaSalle quickly
found it was unable to contain the Highlanders, as Christopher Pawlik banged in a rebound to take the early 1-0 lead.
The Highlanders were in control and LaSalle’s frustrations grew more and more with each NJIT fan’s chants and heckling. Rob Amos would later knock in another rebound giving NJIT a 2-0 lead. All over the ice the roars of the “N-J-I-T!” chant began to echo. On the penalty kill during the 2nd Period, Corrado Mancini intercepted the puck and flew down the ice on the counter attack. Not only did he outskate two LaSalle defenders; he beat the goalie, making it 3-0, NJIT. LaSalle managed to finally solve NJIT’s defense and scored one past goalie Mike Lipinski making it 3-1 at the end of the 2nd.
The fans knew what was coming, the third period was underway, and there was no way NJIT was losing this one. LaSalle gave a good last effort and managed to make the game 3-2, but the Highlanders made sure it was theirs for the taking when Corrado Mancini shot in his 2nd goal of the game after receiving a beautiful cross-ice pass from captain Christopher Oertel, giving NJIT the 4-2 Victory.
Advancing into the next around, the Highlanders would play in another rematch game facing off against C.W. Post on Saturday night for the GNCHC Eastern Division Finals.
Again, the Highlanders were eager to answer the call. Again, the fans showed up in numbers and showed their support. The fans and the team combined to dominate the first-place CW Post, as NJIT opened up the scoring early again.
Christopher Pawlik scored from the point, blasting a slap shot while on the power play for an early 1-0 NJIT lead.
CW Post was not going to go easily, putting up all the pressure it
could, but the fans were loud and disruptive and the Highlanders
thrived on the energy. They picked up the hitting and CW Post was
slowly being put away by the vigorous efforts of NJIT.
In the 2nd period, Rob Amos scored an amazing goal off an offensive zone faceoff by pushing the puck in-between the legs of the CW Post center, then maneuvering around him to pick the puck and wrist it top shelf in to give NJIT a 2-0 lead.
Later, Corrado Mancini would score off another cross-ice pass making it 3-0 Highlanders. The fans grew louder and louder and set up along the boards being as loud and energetic as they could to show the Highlanders their support for becoming Eastern Division Champions.
The shutout bid came to an end for Mike Lipinski, who, for the second night in a row, had a stellar performance. NJIT went on to win, 3-1, securing a berth in the GNCHC championship game against western opponent Muhlenburg.
With an even bigger turnout than the precedingst two nights, the fans rolled into Pro-tech Ponds to watch their Highlanders ascend as NJIT’s first champions.
Again, the Highlanders looked like different team from the regular
season. They were fast, they were smart, they scored goals, they
prevented goals, and they stood up for one another.
Muhlenberg was not going to be an easy task for the Highlanders, who went 0-3-0 against Muhlenburg in the past. The Highlanders went on to prove that the past was the past in the past.
There was 60 minutes of hockey to be played, and it was a thriller, so much so an extra 15 minutes was needed to decide it.
The game started with a much quicker pace than the last two nights. NJIT was skating well and keeping up with Muhlenberg.
Even in the stands the fans went back and forth making noise.
Muhlenberg was first to strike however, scoring midway into the first
period to take the 1-0 lead. Trying to retaliate and use their
hitting, NJIT took a penalty.
In hindsight, Muhlenburg would probably have preferred not having a power play, as Corrado Mancini did it again for the short-handed
Highlanders. He stole the puck and rushed down to the other end, this time uncontested, and beat the goalie to knot the score at a goal apiece.
The game remained deadlocked for all of the 2nd period and majority of the 3rd. The chances were all there but both goalies and both defenses would just not give. The hitting kept pace with the speed of the players, the shots were just shy of being goals and the stands were going crazy.
Back and forth, back and forth, both teams dug in and made their
efforts to become the winners. Suddenly, there it was, Muhlenberg had broken the spell and jumped up 2-1 late in the third. Their fans were roaring with anticipation of having just won the game.
Something surprising happened, though. Amidst all the Muhlengberg chants, a small group slowly erupted before the faceoff, and suddenly the cheers for NJIT overwhelmed the sounds of celebration.
The NJIT fans wanted a goal; the players knew what needed to be done.
Answering the call was Corrado Mancini, scoring his 2nd of the game and 5thof the weekend, when he knocked home a cross-crease pass from Christopher Oertel.
Sixty minutes of hockey was not enough to decide this championship. The Highlanders were sensing victory in overtime; back-and-forth again, the chances were going NJIT’s way.
Muhlenberg, though, landed a big chance late into overtime when a shot from the point flew past NJIT’s goaltender, Michael Lipinski. NJIT all know what happened next, as the sound of iron echoed from end to end of the arena.
NJIT Hockey, NJIT Athletics, and I would like to personally thank the
wonderful fans who came out and supported NJIT Hockey during these playoffs. NJIT couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support; this is as much NJIT Hockey’s as it is the parents’, the faculty’s, and the students’. History has been made; let us all remember this wonderful season.