Men’s ice hockey and new leadership excited to embark on new season ahead
By Grant DeVivo
The weather is cooling down, and Stevenson’s winter sports are finally beginning to rev it up. In the midst of winter sports beginning, Stevenson men’s ice hockey’s highly anticipated and highly promising 2022-2023 season is among those beginning to take flight.
The men’s team is coming off a 2021-2022 season in which they went 18-7-1 overall and finished second in the conference with a 14-4 conference record. The Mustangs outscored opponents 87-66, averaging 3.3 goals per game and totaling 141 assists in the season. They have already been picked in the Mid-Atlantic Conference preseason poll to win the conference.
This year’s skaters are hungrier than ever, and everyone is coming in with an electric attitude toward the season. The veterans of the team have taken early note of the team’s excitement, and they are much more pleased with this year’s early season energy than last year.
“We look a lot more fresh than last year,” senior goalie Ryan Kenny said. “Guys are more excited, and guys are jumping more into leadership roles now. We’re headed in the right direction, and I am excited to see what we can do this year.”
“We have a lot of speed, and a lot of kids are hungry for the puck, which is different from past years since I’ve been here,” said senior forward Austin Master, who was named a United Collegiate Hockey Conference player to watch alongside Kenny and junior forward Frank Vitucci.
The Mustangs would certainly love to repeat 18-7-1 again, if not do better. One thing that they believe will benefit them is the maturation of last year’s underclassmen, which they say will carry into this season and create players that are double the threat from last year. Some of those players to watch are junior defender Evan Beers (2 goals, 9 points, 7 assists last season) and sophomore forward Kyle Lightfoot (3 goals, 10 points, 7 assists last season).
“I think having a lot of freshman and sophomores last year that had the ability to mature over the year [is huge],” said junior forward Eric Olson. “Coming into this year, they are going to have that confidence and just be able to let loose on the ice.”
The Mustangs are also excited about the highly talented first-year class that they have this year. They believe that this is a mature first-year class that can help them do a lot of damage in the conference.
“They seem comfortable in the locker room,” Kenny said. “They get along with everyone well. They are excited and they work hard.” Kenny added that he believes that the first-year students will create some tough decisions for head coach Dominick Dawes as to who plays and who does not.
“They have a lot of speed, which can benefit going up and down the rink,” Olson said. “I think that is one thing we had a little of last year, but then this year we have more of it which is a lot better for the way we play as a hockey team.”
Another thing that they believe will take them far is strong leadership. Stevenson men’s ice hockey takes leadership very seriously. With all the first-year players settling in, leadership will be a crucial aspect of the team’s operation this year. Kenny, Stevenson’s all-time career saves leader (1,649 career saves as of Nov. 1) and three-time All-MAC First Team selection, is impressed with the current leadership and he believes that it will help create a bright future for the program.
“This year compared to last year, each person stepped up in their own way,” Kenny said. “They are showing different levels of excitement, [they are] speaking up, and working harder on and off the ice. A number of guys have stepped up and are going to lead our team in the right direction.”
Olson, a two-time All-MAC Second Team selection, has a clear picture of both how leadership is taken seriously on the team and how he himself looks to stand out as a leader.
“Leadership sets the culture of the locker room,” Olson said. “It gives guys an idea [of] how to go about their business on and off the ice. I think anytime we have a good leadership group here, it sets the tone [that we want].”
“For me, [leadership] is just coming to the rink with a positive attitude, influencing the guys that way and keeping their spirits up,” Olson added about his own leadership. “Hopefully they follow in my footsteps. [Hopefully] they come to the rink, work hard, and enjoy their time here.”
Master’s leadership position is quite special. This year, the 2019-2020 MAC rookie of the year takes a captain role vacated by 2022 graduate Ryan Patrick, who signed a professional hockey contract with the Peoria Rivermen following graduation. He says he feels honored to have the torch passed to him after all that he learned from Patrick, and that Patrick left “tough shoes to fill.”
Master, who had a shot percentage of .217 last season, wants to use his captain role to lead the team to its first-ever UCHC Conference championship.
“It has been a goal of mine since my freshman year,” Master said. “I try to do everything I can and help everyone else out to do what they can to be the first.”
From leadership goals to a gifted first-year class, Stevenson men’s ice hockey appears to have a well-rounded, closely bonded team that could make some big noise in the conference. It is a long season ahead that has just gotten started, but the guys are excited to break through and take home that UHCH championship that they have longed for.
“I think it is time for us to show our conference what we are about, and it is time to make an impact,” Master said.
After splitting this past weekend’s series with SUNY Canton, the Mustangs will take on Utica College both this Friday and Saturday. Both games will be at the Reisterstown Sports Complex in Reisterstown, Maryland, with Friday’s game starting at 7 p.m. and Saturday’s game starting at 4:30 p.m.