Division I hockey returns to the St. Louis area


Photo by Mallary Vasquez

Senior forward Ryan Finnegan celebrates with Lindenwood fans during the Lions’ 8-3 win vs. Central Oklahoma on March 15.

Caleb Woods, Reporter

The Lindenwood Lions men’s ice hockey team hosted the Air Force Falcons in a two-game series at the Centene Community Ice Center on Friday, Oct. 14.

Before the start of the game, President John Porter ceremonially dropped the puck as a vision of restructuring Division I. He was named honorary captain for Friday’s game.

For the first 90 seconds of the game, Lindenwood was off to a great start. The team was playing defensively and playing with hockey smarts.

Kyle Jeffers, who wears No. 8 for the Lions, had some great chances for the Lions but his shots missed the net.

Just when the Lions got momentum, Air Force struck. Austin Schwartz scored 6:28 in the opening period. The lead didn’t last long for the Falcons as the Lions went on to score two goals. The first goal was scored on the power play by No. 27, David Gagnon at 8:30 in the opening period.

A few minutes later, the captain, No. 9, Andy Willis scored the second goal for the Lions at 9:59 in the opening period.

“The opening period I thought it was going to be the most nerve-wracking,” Lindenwood head coach Rick Zombo said. “There’s no way you can take the opponent for granted.”

Just like in the National Hockey League, the lead didn’t last long. As the Falcons tied the game 2-2 with a goal scored by Jacob Marti, who scored his first goal of the season. The score remained tied at the end of the opening period.

During the second period, the Lions got off to a rocky start as they couldn’t seem to get the puck out of their zone. This allowed Air Force to get scoring chances and gain momentum. This eventually led to a Falcons goal giving the Falcons a one-goal lead at 3:36 in the second. The Lions won the faceoff however giving the puck away to Air Force and giving it a 4-2 lead. The goal was scored on the power play by Gavin Will at 5:30 in the second.

The Lions continued to struggle seven minutes in the second period. No. 17, Ryan Finnegan had a good chance of scoring a goal, until the shot was blocked by the goaltender, Aaron Randazzo. That chance eventually led to another Air Force goal scored by Gavin Will, who got his second goal of the night. Later on in the second, the Falcons struck again. This time the goal was scored by Willie Reim.

Despite the struggles, Lindenwood Lions managed to score a goal by No. 22, Max Neill at 13:08 in the second. Near the end of the second period, the Lions gained momentum which eventually led to a goal scored by No. 8, Kyle Jeffers. The score at the end of the second period was 6-4 with Air Force having a two-goal lead.

The third period started right where the Lions left off at the end of the second: gained momentum. The momentum early led to a great scoring chance by No. 11, Jackson Wozniak, though his shot was blocked by a goaltender.

As the third period progressed, the Lions continued the momentum by blocking shots in their defensive zone and making sure the Falcons didn’t have an opportunity to get a scoring chance. While the Lions were still down 6-4 with 10 minutes left in the third period, there game was still going.

“Every team that we play, there are NHL eyes there to watch their own [draft] picks,” Zombo said. “The whole Blues staff was watching our game.”

The momentum led Lindenwood Lions to score on the power play. The goal was scored on a breakaway by No. 21, Hunter Johannes.

Just when you think this game is over, it’s not. The Lions tied the game with a power play goal scored by David Gagnon. The score was now 6-6 with five minutes left in the third period. With less than two minutes remaining in the third period, the Lions managed to complete the comeback. No. 17 Ryan Finnegan scored the comeback goal, leaving Lions with a 7-6 victory.

The Lions’ record now sits at 1-4-0 with this game being the team’s first Division 1 win.

“My players have put Lindenwood on the map,” Zombo said. “Nobody sees the ditch digging and the hard work behind the scenes.”

The Lions split the series with the Falcons with a 5-3 loss on Saturday’s matinee game. The Lions are back on the road to play a two-game series against American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts.