This was labeled a rebuilding year for the Rowan Division II men’s ice hockey team. It was a year for the Profs to integrate new faces into the system and build a foundation for the future with winning as an added bonus.
It seemed as if the players didn’t get that message.
“[This season] far exceeded our expectations as coaches,” head coach John Caulfield said. “This group responded to the challenges we put on them and more.”
The young group brought the Profs to their sixth-straight trip the regionals tournament, and advanced to the second round of the tournament.
“Six consecutive trips to the regionals is an accomplishment we are proud of,” Caulfield said.
In this trip to the regionals, the Profs toppled a scorching hot TCNJ squad that had won their league title and 12 straight games. By the end of the first period, the Profs had poured in four goals, were more resembling the incandescent team on the ice and remained in control all the way to the 6-2 final score.
But after the Lions, it was a matchup with Miami University in Ohio that would end the Profs’ season, and ultimately some collegiate careers.
“Miami is a strong team. We ran with them for a while,” Caulfield said.
Caulfield then lamented that he is “not eloquent enough” to properly console the players whose college careers ended after the 6-2 defeat to Miami, but said some of the players who will return next year offered their support.
“I get caught up in the sadness of the team and the seniors,” Caulfield said. “Every underclassmen respects that group, so they thanked them and gave them hugs. It’s cliché, but it’s a family.”
Two notable seniors vacating the Rowan hockey program are Alec Nicolai and Cody Reilly. Nicolai will leave the ice, but enter the record books as the all-time leading points scorer in Profs history, with Reilly being a fixture as Rowan’s last line of defense.
So, how will they be replaced?
“Hope and prayer,” Caulfield said.
With the way the roster is constructed, and with the fresh batch of recruits coming into Caulfield’s system, the rebuild will live on for at least another year. It will be a green team with a majority of first and second-year players, with senior Justin Natiello featured in net.
Caulfield is no stranger to the rebuild, though. He’s the architect of the team, and despite the obvious youth, he was able to lead his team to the regionals. Even if they’re not winning the regionals tournament, he is granting his young guys invaluable big-game experience.
Next season he expects the same from his rookies — passionate work parlayed into a playoff push.
“We’re going to look good on paper. Unfortunately the game isn’t played on paper so they’ll have to be ready to work,” Caulfield said. “I think we’ll be right back where we are.”
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