Worcester, MA – Welcome to NCAA College Hockey Long Island University. The Sharks kicked off their inaugural season with a 3-2 over-time victory against Holy Cross on Thursday night. Senior forward Christian Rajic, a transfer student from Alabama-Huntsville, beat sophomore goalie Matt Radomsky on a breakaway bid at 3:20 to kick off a frenzied celebration in the Crusaders zone.
Not a bad beginning to a program that was only announced this past April. It helps having five graduate students, as well as six other players with NCAA experience, to balance out the 14 freshman on LIU’s roster. Four of those with NCAA experience figured into the scoring, with Rajic leading the way with a goal and an assist. The biggest stick-tap goes to grad student goaltender Garett Metcalf, who’s 39 saves anchored the Sharks back end. The former Mercyhurst & UMass-Lowell goalie came into the game with 48 career appearances.
The Crusaders kicked things off in the first with an early power-play, as LIU’s Jacob Franzcak was called for Interference at 2:20. Holy Cross peppered five shots on Metcalf during the two-minutes of 5-on-4 action. Just :21 seconds after the power play ended Holy Cross’ sophomore Bobby Young beat Metcalf with a shot from the top of the slot putting the Crusaders ahead early. Young’s second career goal was assisted by freshman line-mate Michael Kane.
LIU was again down a man at 13:50 for Too Many Men On the Ice. Plenty of Crusader chances but only three shots on goal for the power play. Holy Cross outshot LIU 14-6, but lost the face-off battle 13-6 in the first period.
At 7:15 of the second period freshman forward Gustav Müller became a future trivia-question answer when he tied the game at 1-1. Müller banged home a Rajic rebound for his, and LIU’s, first ever NCAA goal with a shot from the left circle.
Just over four minutes later LIU had their first lead when defenseman Mitchell Meek, a Graduate Student from Michigan Tech, popped home his own rebound while making a zone rush. The Sharks had been carrying the play for a majority of the second period.
Holy Cross was whistled for Too Many Men on the Ice at 14:00. Their best chance to build on their lead was when junior Max Balinson hit the post with a shot from the blue line.
After two periods of play the Crusaders had a 17-13 shots on goal advantage, and LIU continued to own the face-off dot after going 10-8 for a 22-14 advantage.
In the third the Sharks hung on as the Crusaders put 20 shots on Metcalf. Senior forward Jake Pappalardo knotted the score at 2-2 when he took a stretch pass from defenseman Logan Milliken, and cut in on Metcalf sniping the puck past him from the slot.
During the three-on-three overtime LIU’s Balinson was called for Interference at 1:09. The Crusaders threatened but Metcalf was feeling it, as evidenced by his spectacular glove save on forward Pete Kessel in front of goal. After Balinson’s penalty expired it was a four-on-four game for :11. Graduate Student Mat Harris, formally of RPI, had back to back blocks on Crusader bids. Harris corralled the puck after the second one and flipped it to Rajic at the Sharks blue line. Rajic was off to the races getting his shot off before a back-checking Logan Ferguson could dive in his way. Rajic beat Radomsky blocker-side to end the game and send the Sharks back to Long Island with the program’s first win.
“It’s disheartening,” Holy Cross coach David Berard said. “We tied the game, we had a lot of momentum, we get into overtime and get a power play. We have to make sure we score there. We had a couple of breakdowns they took advantage of. We had the puck a lot, we had a lot of chances we didn’t bury. When they had a couple of good looks, they did. Sometimes that’s the way the game goes, but win or loss aside, it was great to play a hockey game again.”
“I’m just really proud of the guys,” Sharks head coach Brett Riley said. “It’s been 200 days since we’ve been a program, so I don’t think many people thought we’d take the ice tonight or be where we are, let alone win a hockey game against a really good team, so I have nothing but pride in our guys. To kill a penalty off at the end of the game to a breakaway goal in overtime shows the character we have in the room.”
“Garett was obviously exceptional tonight,” Riley said of his starting goalie. “He’s exceptional every day in practice. He brings a calming presence, he’s a leader, he bailed us out many times tonight, and he won us the hockey game. He was excellent on the PK. The goaltender has to be your best killer, and he was tonight for sure.”
LIU Director of Athletics Dr. William Martinov, Jr. was very pleased with the program’s debut showing. “I’m so happy for Coach Riley and the players! From March 1 to now they really put their hearts in it to get us here. I’m excited! We’ll take this win.”
The two teams will face-off again on Sunday, November 22 at 4:00 pm at Holy Cross’ Hart Center.