The already exciting season for the Drexel men’s ice hockey team is just getting started. The Dragons won their first Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament title since 2005 with a 7-2 victory Feb. 19 over Lebanon Valley College.
Drexel finished the season with a 24-11-0 overall record and, in addition to the tournament title, won its first-regular season ECHA championship since 2001 with an astonishing 13-1 record in conference play.
“These guys have been together for a few years now and have experienced some tough times,” head coach Gregg Marinari acknowledged. “Through those hardships this team learned how to win, and this year we had the most wins of any Drexel team since 1992.”
The Dragons’ regular-season title earned them the top seed in the ECHA Tournament, which meant the team only needed two wins to clinch the championship. After steamrolling the University of Scranton 8-1 in the semifinals, Drexel took care of business against Lebanon Valley in the final.
Freshman forward Marco Gagliardi, sophomore defenseman Andrew MacBride, senior goaltender Dan Pyne and junior forward Ross Denczi were named to the All-ECHA Tournament Team.
Sophomore forward Eric Brawly was named ECHA Tournament MVP for his outstanding performance for the Dragons. Brawly amassed four goals and two assists, including a hat trick in the championship game.
With their victory in the ECHA Tournament, the Dragons moved into a tie for No. 24 in the national rankings. The Dragons also clinched a berth as the No. 19 seed in the 20-team American Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament, which will be held March 2-7 at Hoover Arena in Strongville, Ohio.
“Going into training camp we knew we had the opportunity to do something special,” Marinari said. “A lot of players returned from last year because we only had one senior graduating.”
Drexel’s first-round game in the tournament will be against 14th-seeded Davenport University, which is located in Grand Rapids, Mich., March 2. Davenport boasts a 20-19-0 overall record, including 15-5 in Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League play.
The Dragons garnered a lot of attention earlier this season when they defeated rival Villanova University, 7-3, in the 2012 Crosstown Classic “Battle at the Bank” Jan. 5.
The game was held outdoors at Citizens Bank Park on the same rink where the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers played the 2012 NHL Winter Classic just three days earlier. However, the excitement of the season did not end there, as Drexel went 8-3 in its final eleven games after the outdoor game.
“We’ve really been strong all season long,” Marinari explained. “After the Crosstown Classic we picked up some momentum and just kept rolling from there.”
The Dragons’ success in conference play led to numerous postseason accolades for the players and coaches. Junior defenseman Mike Antoni, along with Pyne and Denczi, were named to the All-ECHA First Team.
“I cannot stress enough the amount of character on this team,” Marinari noted. “Our captain [senior forward] Kyle Zoldy is the prime example of that, and the rest of the guys have followed suit.”
Garnering as much attention as his talented players, Marinari won his first-ever ECHA Coach of the Year award for the 2011-12 season. It marks the first time in ECHA history that a coach has won the award for the same school for which he had also played.
Assistant coach Justin Levin is also a former player for the Dragons and has been a part of four ECHA championship teams combined as a player and coach.
“It obviously means a lot to be a part of so many ECHA championships,” Levin said. “It says a lot about the quality of people that Drexel and its ice hockey program attract in order to have success for that many years.”
With a March 2 win over Davenport in the first round, the team can continue this season’s success and move on to the Sweet 16 of the ACHA Tournament and a potential matchup against the third-seeded University of Delaware.
In order to come out on top against Davenport, the Dragons will look to exploit the Panthers’ goaltender, sophomore Phil Graveline. The goaltender allowed five goals in his last start, a 6-1 loss in the GLCHL Tournament to No. 13 Adrian College.
“We haven’t had any problems filling the net this season; this team can just flat out score,” Marinari said. “Even if we get down, we have the confidence to produce a comeback.”
Drexel must keep a close eye on Davenport’s two leading scorers, sophomore forward Phil Wendecker and senior forward Ben Dykstra, who have tallied 38 points apiece so far this season.
“Davenport has a solid team, and if we want to win, we have to play great team defense,” Marinari emphasized. “We need to do our best to keep them off the scoreboard.”