DOMINIC HOSCHER | Reporter
Expectations are high for the Lindenwood men’s ice hockey team entering the 2018-19 season, just as they were for their first games of the year against the Central Oklahoma Bronchos.
While there was plenty of pressure on the Lions to start the season off right, they didn’t let it alter their play as Lindenwood won on back-to-back nights against the Bronchos.
“We wanted to start off good,” head coach Rick Zombo said. “Anytime you’re playing at home, you want to establish home-ice advantage, you want to play well in front of your student body and the fans that support us.”
Lindenwood sent their fans home happy on Friday night, rebounding from a 2-1 deficit at the start of the third period to dominating the final 20 minutes and winning by a score of 4-2. Leading the Lions on offense was senior Tommy Heinzman, who tallied three assists on the evening.
“I’ve got to give credit to my linemen,” Heinzman said. “They skated fast down the walls, our defense was unbelievable, they’re always up in the play. Our defense had half the goals on Friday, I’m just throwing the puck to the net.”
The first period on Friday night was dictated by strong goaltending from Central Oklahoma’s Alex Henry and Lindenwood’s Max Kerner. The highlight for the Lions’ young goalie was a stop on a Bronchos penalty shot, keeping the game scoreless. Kerner, in his first collegiate start, earned his first win of his young career, making 18 saves on 20 shots.
“It was an opportunity for me to see what Kerner was made of,” Zombo said. “The penalty shot he stopped against a really talented player not only provided confidence for Kerner, but also the rest of our team and even his coach, me, that I got the right call.”
“Anytime we sweep against a great team it’s great, we’ve got an untarnished record as it is, and we have to prove ourselves everyday.”
This wasn’t the only call that Zombo got right on the night. His well-balanced lines from top to bottom led to an explosive third period that saw the Lions score three unanswered goals, the first coming from defender Matt Runyon who lasered his shot from the point into the bottom corner. Both the go-ahead and insurance goal were scored by Zach Mitchell, giving the Lions their first victory of the season.
Saturday’s contest started off a lot like the third period in the previous night’s game: all Lions. Mitchell kept the good times rolling early, finding the back of the net for the third time in just two games, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead. Just a few moments later, the lead was quickly doubled by senior Alex Kalau, who grabbed his first goal of the new season.
“The good start really helped us out,” Heinzman said. “Getting them on their heels early, going up 2-0 within two minutes of the game. There was a lot of penalties, but we stuck to our game plan and got pucks deep.”
The Lions got off to another strong start in the second, scoring a third goal inside the first two minutes of the period. Ryan Finnegan’s persistent effort in front of goal led to the freshman forward pushing the puck past Central Oklahoma’s Henry and making it a 3-0 game.
From then on, it was the Cooper Seedott show. The Bronchos generated chance after chance, fastbreak after fastbreak, yet Seedott remained a brick wall in front of the net, keeping all 22 of Central Oklahoma’s shots at bay. The sophomore goalie+, who had one shutout all of last year, earned his first of the season on Saturday night.
“Cooper Seedott is probably the best goalie in the league,” Zombo said. “I have got to make certain that our players don’t use that as a convenience, and that they forget about the back door.
They certainly didn’t forget about the back door on Saturday, keeping the Bronchos off the board on the night, and holding the visitors to just two goals over the weekend set. This was just after Central Oklahoma scored a combined 14 goals in two games against Niagara University.
The lack of scoring led to a frustrating weekend for the Bronchos, which eventually caused a hostile final 10 minutes that saw multiple scrums and multiple ejections, including the entire Central Oklahoma first line.
“It was just chippy stuff at the end,” Heinzman said. “Once any team touches our goalie, you do whatever you can to protect your goalie and that’s what happened. Me and another kid got into it a little bit, it happens, but we’ll always stick with the guys on our team and that’s why we’re so competitive everyday in practice and it’s why it shows in games.”
The two sides won’t get a chance to settle their feuds until late January, when Lindenwood travels to Central Oklahoma for another back-to-back set of games. For now, the Bronchos fall to 2-2 on the year while the Lions are a perfect 2-0 to start the new campaign.
“I’m proud of our players anytime we win,” Zombo said. “Anytime we sweep against a great team it’s great, we’ve got an untarnished record as it is, and we have to prove ourselves everyday. Our players play with respect, they play with diligence, and pride in their craft.”
Zombo and the Lions will enjoy a weekend off before they head to Robert Morris University on Oct. 5 and 6 in hopes of earning another sweep and staying undefeated.