College Hockey:
Westfield State rallies, skates to 4-4 tie with Nichols

— In a game rife with penalties, it was only fitting that the play that decided the game was a result of a whistle.

Westfield State forward Lucas Romero’s penalty shot with one minute left in the third period helped the Owls erase a 4-1 deficit and tie Nichols 4-4  in a game that saw a combined 20 penalties called before 504 rowdy fans at the season opener for both teams at Amelia Park Arena.

“It’s early in the year,” Nichols head coach Lou Izzi said. “I think both teams right now are just trying to get in a rhythm with their special teams. We just took too many penalties.”

The Bisons were whistled for the first of their thirteen penalties at 1:11 in the first when Matt Lynch was called for tripping. Westfield  moved the puck well and generated several chances on the man advantage, but wasn’t able to score.

Each team grabbed a power play goal midway through the first. Nichols’ Andrew Ella scored at 9:30 while Westfield answered with freshman Vince Perreault’s tipped the puck past Bison goalie Jacob Rinn (43 saves) for his first collegiate goal at 11:55.

The Bisons opened up a 4-1 lead thanks to Matt Sayer’s power play strike at 18:37 in the first, followed by Zach Kohn’s power play goal at 10:30 in the second. After coming out strong in the first, the Owls allowed a series of odd man rushes in the second that put goalie Ray Monroe (34 saves) on the spot.

“I think we were trying to make that extra pass and be a little too pretty instead of getting pucks to the net,” Westfield State head coach Bob Miele said. “Nichols was taking advantage of those mistakes, our first game jitters, so to speak … we have a lot of freshman and now they’ve got a game under their belt so hopefully they’ll protect the puck a little bit better. Protect the puck and make the smart play instead of trying to make the big play.”

But it was the Bisons’ aggressiveness that helped the Owls jump back into the game. A pair of penalties gave Westfield a brief  5-on-3 power play, and they capitalized with just one second left on the two man advantage when A.J. Shiverdecker scored to cut the Bisons’ lead to 4-2. Perreault tallied an assist on the goal, giving him two points in his collegiate debut.

“I looked up [and saw there was one second left] and I had a smile on my face,” Miele said. “That was huge there.”

Taylor Murphy’s power play tip in gave the freshman his first collegiate goal and  made it 4-3 at 17:34 in the third. With just over a minute left in the game, Romero grabbed the loose puck in the neutral zone and cruised down the slot before being tripped by Will Brown as he moved towards the net. A penalty shot was awarded and Romero drifted towards the left boards before cutting back towards the crease to bury the puck past  Rinn and tie the game at four.

“The penalty shot a huge play and a big time player in Lucas Romero,” Miele said. “[That's] one of our better players just stepping up. There’s a lot of pressure in that situation.

Westfield outshot Nichols 25-9 in the third period and each team was able to generate several chance in overtime. The Bisons’ couldn’t convert off the rush with just over a minute remaining in overtime, while the Owls failed to score despite a flurry of activity around the net in the waning seconds of the extra period.

“I was proud of the way we competed,” Izzi said. “[Entering overtime] we told our guys, ‘Listen, it’s a five minute game, just forget about what happened. Let’s regroup and try to get the puck to the net.’ There’s no such thing as a bad shot in overtime.”

Despite the losing the lead, the game served as a good measuring stick for Izzi, who hadn’t seem his team in full action due to injuries for almost a year.

“This game accomplished what we set out to do,” he said. “We knew it would be a big hostile crowed. We wanted to see where we were this early in the season. We’ve got a lot of work to do obviously, but to come here and play the way we did, for two periods at least, was a good sign.”

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