Roller hockey poised for inaugural playoff run

Everyone on campus knows about the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams. Most even know the individual game scores. Less people know about the men’s and women’s club ice hockey teams. But even fewer students know of the existence and success of the men’s roller hockey team. In the program’s first year of existence, the team had a regular season record of 5-5-2 and an overall record of 7-5-3. The team competes in the Eastern Collegiate Roller Hockey League and is in the Mid-Atlantic division. Their overall record has given them a fourth seed in this weekend’s playoffs.

The reason many students may not know of the team’s existence is because the closest games played are hours away in places like Philadelphia, Hartford and Long Island. This is just one of many differences roller hockey has compared to ice hockey. The game itself is very different as well.

"The style of play is way different, you play four-on-four instead of 5-on-5" Ryan McAleer said. McAleer plays on both the club ice hockey team and the roller hockey team.

The 4-on-4 play creates much more open space during a game. One player is more responsible for a bigger area in their own end as well as an attacking player having more room to work with when pushing the puck up court. The difference in the ability to stop and change directions is also something roller hockey players have to adjust to.

"One of the main differences is it’s way harder to stop in roller hockey," said defenseman Daniel Gambardella. "You can change directions much quicker [in ice hockey] which makes it easier to go around someone and easier to stop someone as well and in roller hockey you can’t do that."

Fellow defenseman Tyler Barbariantz also agreed.

"Definitely stopping, it’s a lot harder to stop on a dime in roller [hockey], when you’re going into the corners, it’s a lot different," Barbariantz said. "You go into them a little easier."

The difficulty with stopping, combined with less physicality as compared to ice hockey, creates a largely different game. Many of the players on the roller hockey team were used to playing ice hockey more consistently throughout their playing careers and had limited roller hockey experience. But even with the difficulties and differences in the game, the roller hockey team finished its inaugural season strong after pulling it together in the stretch run.

Starting off the season slow with a 0-2 start is not what the Lakers had in mind, but the team got back up to .500 with help from goaltender Chris Galante. He posted a 25-save shutout against Villanova University and received a two-point showing from McAleer against Ithaca.

The next three games would not end in the Lakers’ favor, making their playoff hopes seem out of reach. Syracuse University goalie Chris Valente stopped 40 shots in a 3-2 win over the Lakers. The tough loss would only get tougher after two more losses to Queens College and Scranton University.

At 2-5, the Lakers picked up the pace, ending the regular season by going undefeated in their last five games and, in the process, flying up the standings. In the stretch run the team was led by Brian Gambardella’s seven points and Billy Farr’s eight points, which gave him a team-leading 13 points.

The reason for the change can be credited to the team’s addition of a head coach right before the start of the five-game winning streak. Stuart Seidel, a student coach, said it’s difficult at times coaching your peers.

"It’s kind of a little difficult because you want everyone to like you, but you want to be that adult figure to them," Seidel said. "It’s definitely a lot harder to do it when you’re the same age.

Since taking on the job as coach he believes there is a huge difference in the team atmosphere, which has shown in the standings.

"Everyone just kind of did their own thing, now everyone’s kind of getting into the team idea," Seidel said. "Before, no one really practiced with each other, it was just kind of a free-for-all, now everyone’s starting to come to practice and is starting to get the mindset that they can win it all since they’re starting to play like a team."

Going into the playoffs, the momentum and hopes are high for the Lakers. "We started a little shaky and had some in-house problems but we resolved them and are playing some of the best hockey we’ve played so far. I’m excited to go to playoffs," Gambardella said.

Being in the best position to judge the team from the start of the season to the end, Galante put it simply when describing the team’s improvement and stretch run.

"We’re starting to mesh better, much better team chemistry, scoring a lot more goals, making a lot more saves," Galante said.