Written by: Connor Corrigan-Webster
RALEIGH — The Icepack's 2023-24 season campaign is in full swing, and it won't be slowing down anytime soon.
With a handful of games in the books since our last check-in, let's take a look at how the season's unfolded in the meantime, as well as preview the big pair of games coming up this week.
Tough Losses at Liberty, vs Kentucky
As we covered in our previous installation of "Icepack Insider," NC State traveled to Lynchburg nearly three weeks ago to face the Division I Liberty Flames. The annual early-season matchup at LaHaye Ice Center is never an easy one, and this year was no different, as the Icepack suffered a compelling 7-2 loss.
On the brighter side of things, goaltender Eric Daniel shined in the matchup, recording a .923 (24/26) save percentage in relief and notching an assist on the second goal. The loss dropped their record against the D1 Flames to 0-4 all-time, being outscored 33-13 in the process.
The team didn't have long to dwell on the loss, however, as the Kentucky Wildcats came to town for the Icepack's first test at home.
The Icepack started the game by putting up two goals in the first 21 minutes, but difficulty scoring on the power play (1/8, good for 12.5% efficiency) allowed the Wildcats to storm back from the deficit, resulting in a 5-2 loss, the first on home ice this season.
Forward Philip Bailey had a big night for the club, recording two goals in the narrow loss to a highly-respected Kentucky team.
Icepack Splits Road Series With Penn State
The busy schedule continued rolling on the following weekend, as the team traveled north to State College for a two-game series with the Penn State Nittany Lions. The series had "revenge" written all over it for the Icepack, as they sought to defeat a Nittany Lions team that had knocked them out of the ACCHL Tournament the season prior.
The first game, similar to their game against Kentucky the week before, saw the Icepack jump out to a 2-0 lead early in the game. This time, however, the group held their ground, notching a 3-1 win and their first road victory of the young 2023-24 season.
The team couldn't achieve the road sweep, unfortunately, as a 4-2 loss evened up the series with the Nittany Lions. The teams met twice last season too, splitting those games as well.
Forwards Zach Robinson and Garrett Auriene had convincing weekends, putting up two goals and two assists, respectively. Defenseman Caid Cox continued an extremely impressive rookie campaign, notching an assist in the second game, bringing his season total to six points in five games played.
Home-And-Home With D2 Flames On Deck
Despite a less-than-deal start to the season in terms of physical record, the Icepack has the chance to make a statement this weekend with the D2 Liberty Flames coming to town for their annual "Wagon Wheel" home-and-home series.
Since 2020-21, the Icepack and Flames have met six times, three times at home and three times on the road for either team. The rivalry has been about as evenly matched as one could imagine, with each team going 2-2-2 and a slight goal differential advantage in favor of the Icepack (+1).
The Flames have had an excellent start to their season, going 3-0-1 (.833 win percentage) and chalking a goal differential of plus-12. The red-hot Liberty squad has yet to play a game on the road this season, however, so a raucous crowd in Raleigh will be crucial for the Icepack to start the series off strong.
The series' first game is tonight at 9:00 p.m. at Invisalign Arena, while game two shifts to LaHaye Ice Center tomorrow night at 10:15 p.m.