The Montclair State University men’s ice hockey team did exactly what they needed to do in their last three games — win. These important wins gave the team eight points and the fifth spot in the Super East Collegiate Hockey League (SECHL) playoff standings.
After an exciting 3-2 overtime win at Central Connecticut State University on Feb. 1, the Red Hawks had the momentum they needed to secure four more points and finish off their regular season schedule at Floyd Hall Arena the following weekend. The Red Hawks faced off against Army on Friday and Sacred Heart University on Saturday. Since a win gave them three points, an overtime win provided two points and an overtime loss would get them only one, they had to at least beat one of these teams in regulation.
The Red Hawks head coach Robert Martinez talked about the effort of his team over the weekend.
“The team knew it would be a test and they rose to the occasion,” Robert Martinez said. “I cannot say enough about the way everyone has pulled together the last two weeks. We are getting secondary scoring, great goaltending when we need it and our special teams are coming up large in pressure situations and that’s a testament to our guys, all of them.”
Junior forward Shawn Meneghin also expressed his feelings of being in the playoffs for the first time in his college career.
“It was definitely one of the greatest feelings in my three years playing here,” Meneghin said. “I couldn’t sleep that night because I couldn’t believe what we just achieved, along with everyone playing the best games of their season to achieve the goal we set earlier in the season that hasn’t been reached in years.”
After Army took a one goal lead in the first period on Friday night, the Red Hawks answered with a goal 5:48 into the second period from freshman forward Anthony Oliveri. A tied score was intense until sophomore defenseman Ryan Martinez went bar down to put Montclair State on top with less than four minutes left in the period, scoring the eventual game-winner.
Two minutes later, freshman forward Spencer Rozell sealed the deal against Army, along with a Red Hawks empty-netter, thirty seconds later.
Freshman forward Mike Miller notched up three assists, sophomore goaltender Danny Porth saved 37 of the 38 shots taken by Army and Montclair State was one point away from clinching a playoff berth with the 4-1 win.
“Everyone wants to be the hero in the game, but my mindset was leaving it all out there so we could make it into playoffs,” Ryan Martinez said. “We all knew what we had to do and we got it done. I guess it was just my weekend and the feeling of the game-winner was definitely one to remember.”
The team knew that Sacred Heart was going to be harder to beat, but that did not stop them on senior night. After a scoreless first period, Oliveri opened up the scoring a little over halfway into the second period. Meneghin scored 21 seconds later to give the Red Hawks a two-goal lead.
After Sacred Heart tied it up, the teams went into an important third period, tied 2-2. Montclair State would, at the very least, have to take the Pioneers into overtime in order to knock Army or Central Connecticut out of playoff contention.
Meneghin gave the lead back to the Red Hawks shortly into the period, and then Ryan Martinez gave Sacred Heart a two goal deficit to come back from. Montclair State was up 4-2 just three minutes into the final period of regulation.
The game was not over yet, the Pioneers cut the lead to one and the entire crowd was on the edge of their seats. The next ten minutes would go by slow, at least to the spectators, as the Red Hawks held their lead and Porth would not allow a single goal.
As the clock wound down, senior forward Zak Pavlishin sauced the puck down the ice for an empty-netter. The entire team celebrated, as they knew that with the 5-3 win, playoffs would be a reality for the first time in three seasons.
Ryan Martinez ended the two games with two game-winning goals and three assists, Oliveri had two goals and three assists as well, Meneghin racked up three goals and two assists and Porth saved 71 of 75 shots. The four seniors, forwards Mike Nordstrom, Evan Calendrillo and Pavlishin, along with defenseman Thomas Vandervliet, will get to see at least one more game in their college hockey careers.
“It feels great to be back in the playoffs for my senior year,” Calendrillo said. “I was not ready for the season to end and we battled these final few weeks to make the playoffs a possibility.”
Calendrillo expanded on his time as a Red Hawk.
“It’s been a long, hard last couple of years since the team made it to the playoffs back in my freshman year,” Calendrillo said. “This year definitely did not start how we thought it would, but we are playing better and with more confidence at the right time. I’m proud of our effort and I am confident there is going to be more to be excited about.”
The Red Hawks will go into the SECHL playoffs hot on a three-game winning streak, the longest they have seen all season. They play Sacred Heart again on Feb. 21 in the first round at Floyd Hall, a rematch that will be intense and exciting to see.
“In training camp we laid everything out to the team and making the playoffs was a clearly defined and unanimous team goal, an attainable one,” Robert Martinez said. “I think we can accomplish more, we are at our best right now and some other teams may be overlooking us as the fifth-seeded team. We are definitely capable to win in a playoff situation, after all, we’ve been playing ‘playoff hockey’ for three weeks now and have been successful in doing so.”