Lions look to build off fast start while still away from home
ADRIAN, Mich. — With a 2-0-1 record to start the young season, the Finlandia Lions men’s hockey team are clicking on several cylinders much quicker that perhaps even head coach Joe Burcar could have expected.
Just to put things in perspective, the Lions had not won two games combined in their past three seasons and had not won two in a row since Jan. 18 and 23, 2015, when the Lions defeated Northland and then-No. 8 Adrian. The Lions had not started the season 2-0 since Nov. 9-10, 2007, when they swept Concordia (Wisconsin).
It is enough to make your head spin.
“Going into the season (we were) optimistic,” said Burcar. “They were extremely young. We brought in a big freshman class.
“As early as it is, the resiliency of the team (is strong). This was a good weekend. We got pushed hard. We didn’t fold. We didn’t break.”
The Lions went into last Friday’s matchup with MSOE brimming with confidence and that excitement carried over into a first period where freshman forward Vinny Mastrandrea found the back of the net late.
Mastrondrea’s junior teammate, defenseman Cory Richardson, factored into the Lions’ second tally on the power play as he got the puck to freshman defenseman Andrew Froese, who picked up the primary helper on a goal by captain Alex Rezansoff just over three minutes into the middle frame.
Mastrondrea and Richardson are two youngsters that Burcar feels really add to the Lions’ attack and likes what he sees out of both to this point.
“Vinny is a natural center,” said Burcar. “He has good speed. He understands the game well. He has been taught well.
“Cory is just a guy who can log a lot of minutes in a game and he can play in every situation.”
The Raiders fought back with three goals over a 2:02 span, including two on the man advantage. In years past, that type of outburst might have been enough to cause the Lions to implode and struggle the remainder of the night.
Friday, however, the Lions took advantage of a mistake by the Raiders and got themselves a late-period power play. During the advantage, freshman Teddy Randell set up Froese for a shot from the point that evened the contest heading into the third.
In a 4-on-4 situation in the third, senior Kendall Bolen-Porter scored his second straight game-winning goal. Burcar is heartened by his veteran’s play thus far.
“That goes back to last spring during our exit meeting,” said Burcar. “He had a plan over the summer. He really had an opportunity to focus on getting in better shape. He wanted to have a good year. You could see that happen through the summer time with him. His hard work is definitely paying off right now.”
From there, sophomore Marcus Gloss shut the door for the Lions, making 10 of his 38 saves in the third period to earn his third career victory.
On Saturday, the Lions faced a Concordia Falcons team that was fresh off a 3-2 overtime loss to No. 1 St. Norbert the previous night.
After a scoreless first period, the Lions struck first when junior Blake Peavy found the back of the net 6:21 into the second. That score would remain the lone tally in the contest until Jim Pearson evened things on a power play in the third.
Gloss made another 51 saves, including 20 in the third and seven more in overtime to earn the tie. The youngster is sporting a 1.62 goals against average and a .959 save percentage.
The Lions will need him at his best Friday night as they take on the No. 4 Adrian Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are 3-1-0 to start the season, but are coming off a loss at home to Marian, 4-1.
Adrian is led by senior Bryan Yim, who has a team-high four goals. Junior Dino Balsamo and senior Cory Dunn also have four points each on one goal and three assists.
The Bulldogs have been consistently strong since starting their Division III hockey program.
“They run a class program,” said Burcar. “They are one of the best. They are always a Top 10 team every year. We definitely want to go in there and get our own success against them.”
On Saturday, the Lions will face the Trine Thunder. The Thunder are 1-2-1 on the season and are fresh off a win against Lawrence last Saturday, 5-1.
Freshman forward Garrett Hallford leads the team in scoring with one goal and four points.
Junior Brett Young has been a source of strength for the second-year club in goal, appearing in all four game and putting up a 2.24 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.
The Lions will face the Bulldogs at 7:05 p.m. Friday at the Arrington Ice Arena in Adrian. Saturday, the Lions will face the Thunder at the Thunder Ice Arena at 3 p.m. in Angola, Indiana.