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Drexel Club Ice Hockey wins ESCHL championships | The Triangle
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Drexel Club Ice Hockey wins ESCHL championships

Photo Courtesy of David Wagstaff

Drexel University’s D1 Club Ice Hockey team became the 2024 Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) champions on Feb. 25.

The ESCHL is a collegiate hockey conference that was created in 2017. The conference holds an annual championship tournament every year with the University of Delaware, Drexel University, NYU, Niagara University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rhode Island, Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. The championship games were held at the Revolution Ice Centre in Pittston, PA.

This season Syracuse and NYU were knocked out of the tournament. Niagara and Pitt were the top two teams in the ESCHL, so they were granted a bye week and automatically qualified to compete in the second round of the tournament. URI and Stony Brook competed in one of the first round matches, resulting in URI snagging the next spot in the tournament 3-2.

Tyler Woyshner is the new head coach of DU’s Ice Hockey team, taking after Coach Zoldy who retired just this past June.

“I certainly [take] inspiration from Coach Zoldy. I wouldn’t be the coach I am today without him. He was able to command a room better than anyone I have ever seen. He is the most respected player, coach, and person that I have ever met and rightfully so,” said Woyshner. “He is a true leader and I learned so much from playing hockey with him [and] coaching with him for the past two years…Drexel hockey always has, and always will be about family, hard work, and effort. Those were the values that were instilled in me as a player many years ago, and that is what we try to instill into our players now.”

DU’s first game was against the Delaware Blue Hens on Feb. 23. The first period ended in a tough fight with no goals scored. In the second period, Matt Harris shot the first successful goal in the game with an assist from Tyler Black, pushing Drexel in the lead. Shortly after, Delaware scored, tying the game 1-1.

Less than a minute later, DU’s Anton Kozitskiy scored, sending the Dragons back into the lead. With an assist from Ryan Sambuco, Nick Castura sent another puck into the net, Drexel was up 3-1.

In the final period, Castura scored another goal with an assist from Black. DU defeated the Blue Hens 4-1 and were moving on to the semifinals on Feb. 24.

URI defeated Pittsburgh in the tournament’s semifinal round 5-3 on Feb. 24 and officially secured a spot in the championship final.

Drexel moved on to the semifinals as well where they matched up against the Niagara Purple Eagles, the leading team in the ESCHL. DU’s Barrett Genovese scored the first goal of the game within the first two minutes with an assist from Kozitskiy and Adam Lizine. Genovese scored another goal with an assist from Kozitskiy and Sambuco putting the Dragons in the lead 2-0.

Niagara scored their first goal against DU towards the end of the first. The period ended with Drexel in the lead 2-1.

Niagara scored another goal in the second period of the game, tying the game 2-2. Less than a minute later the Purple Eagles sent another puck into the net, putting themselves in the lead 3-2 for the remainder of the second period.

“Even though we were outplayed that period, the leadership of our coaches and captains kept everyone’s emotions in check and kept us locked in. We had seemingly been in this situation throughout the year, down one goal to a higher-ranked opponent…We came out of the second intermission motivated, taking the rest of the game one goal at a time,” said Ryan Nocerino, Drexel’s goaltender. 

Castura bounced back and scored a goal within the first 15 seconds of the third period, tying the game 3-3. Sambuco scored a goal mid-period with an assist from Black, pushing Drexel in the lead 4-3. Less than a minute later, DU’s Jim Jacobs scored the final goal of the game, making the score 5-3 and sending the Dragons to the ESCHL championship final.

Woyshner shared how the team felt after defeating Niagara. 

“Obviously, earlier in the season they had beaten us pretty badly. But we were a different team then, still trying to find our identity. Once we beat them in the playoffs, confidence was at an all time high. The guys knew that if they could play at a level to beat a top 10 team in the country, and if that effort/level of play could be replicated, we would be a very difficult team to beat,” Woyshner said.

Drexel played against URI in the championship game on Feb. 25. The first period was a tough battle as no teams scored any goals despite there being 24 different attempts.

In the second period, DU’s Evan Mudrick scored the first goal of the game with an assist from Black and Jacobs. Later in the period, the Rams scored, tying the game 1-1. Kozitskiy secured DU another goal with an assist from Sambuco and Lizine, sending them in the lead 2-1 for the remainder of the second.

“The atmosphere was electric in the building that day. A little bit of nervous energy in the first period, but once the guys got settled in, you could feel the confidence growing higher and higher. We had a ton of parents/family come out to support so the stands were loud and you could feel it from the bench.  Every goal we scored, every player on the bench was celebrating with each other and it was an incredible experience to be a part of,” Woyshner mentioned.

In the third period, Castura sent another goal into the net with an assist from Kozitskiy and Sambuco, making the score 3-1. URI shoots, sending another puck to the net and making the score 3-2. Sambuco scored the final goal of the game mid-period with no assists. Drexel won 4-2 and became the 2024 ESCHL Champions.

Nocerino blocked 105 attempted shots throughout the entire tournament. He was recently awarded the Tournament MVP title.

“105 saves seems like a lot, which it is, but this is by far the best the team has played in front of me. As a goalie, I appreciate my teammate’s willingness to block shots and sacrifice their bodies. If it wasn’t for their effort, that shot total could have easily been 120-130, and who knows how that could have changed our destiny. This only motivated me more to stay sharp and give 110%. I knew every opportunity to make a play or save was crucial, and there was no room for errors,” Nocerino said.

Woyshner adds a final thought about the team’s prospective season to come, “The goal is always to get better and better each year. From a coaching perspective, we expect to do everything that we can to make sure every player exits the year a better person than they were when they entered the year. From a hockey perspective, we expect to be competing for back to back championships next season. We also have aspirations of making the national tournament. I think we made some big strides towards that goal this year and it is certainly something that is within our reach.”