Ryan Henkel - The Technician:The NC State men's club hockey team won its last two regular season games over the weekend, beating UNC-Wilmington and UNC-Charlotte to secure the top seed for the ACCHL playoffs.
The Icepack finished off the season with an overall record of 22-3-0 and a perfect conference record of 10-0-0. It is the second consecutive season the Icepack has had a perfect ACCHL record and been the top seed for the tournament.
NC State is entering the tournament on the high of a current 17-game winning streak and a goal differential of plus-132 for the season.
Last year’s bracket saw NC State take down St. Joseph’s, Wake Forest and then UVA en route to its first ACCHL title and Admiral Cup since 2011, and now the Icepack is looking for back-to-back wins.
In the first round, the No. 1 seed Icepack will face off against the No. 8 seed UNC-Charlotte, a rematch of Saturday’s game, which NC State won 2-0. In the only other meeting between the teams this year, Nov. 1 at Iceplex, the Icepack trounced the 49ers 12-5.
By far, the Icepack’s biggest competition will be Wake Forest. The Deacons enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed with the same 10-0-0 ACCHL record as NC State, and while in one of their two matches the Pack easily won 5-1, Wake Forest also took a game to the end, forcing NC State to barely hold on for a 4-3 win.
One can also not forget the other divisional leaders in No. 4 George Washington and No. 3 Virginia, who were the league champions in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Due to the bracket restructuring after the first round, the Icepack could only face as high as George Washington should they advance, and could only face UVA or Wake Forest in the finals should they advance.
One of the biggest reasons for the Icepack’s success this year has been the team’s second straight season of offensive brilliance, even with the graduation of one of the team’s greatest players, Sam Banasiewicz. A huge boon for NC State in that regard has come from the supplementation of youth into the squad, with the most prolific name being that of freshman forward Chris Solomon.
Solomon leads the Icepack in goals (25), assists (27) and points (52), despite missing a few games due to injury. The team’s ability to find these gems is why they’ve proven to be so successful.
Even outside Solomon, NC State has gotten tremendous help from a few other freshmen. Defenseman Victor Hugo has put up four goals and 17 assists, forward Matt Miller has eight goals and 18 assists, and forward Garrett Auriene has seven goals and 13 assists.
The Icepack’s sophomore trio of Alex Robinson, Parker Szarek and last season’s ACCHL Rookie of the Year Riley Johnson have all also kept pace to propel the team’s success, with each posting at least 15 goals and 20 assists apiece through the regular season.
While the youth has proven to be an engine for the team, the solidity and leadership of the upperclassmen is what really holds it all together. The leadership group of captain Ryan Kinney and alternate captains Cam Mazikowski and Eric Todd, along with team president Ian O’Rourke, keep the team a smooth sailing ship while still contributing night in and night out on the ice.
A few names can get thrown around for their striking play or presence on the ice, but hockey is not a sport about individuals. It is a team sport, and the Icepack would not be successful if it were not for every single player on that roster. Ask anybody on the team, and they would say no different.
As NC State prepares to go for its second straight ACCHL title, it’s this depth that should prove vital to the team’s success and might just help see the Icepack back to not only the ACHA Regionals, but to Nationals as well.
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