The Rowan University D-II ice hockey team returned to the rink to begin the 2017-18 season on Saturday night.
The Profs took advantage of a shortened Wagner College roster to power their way to a 6-3 victory.
Wagner struck early in the first as Michael Migliorisi sniped the puck past Rowan goaltender Justin Natiello.
After that, Wagner never came close to having a lead again, as the brown and gold rattled off four unanswered goals, all by different players. Connor MacEwen led the Profs in scoring to start the season with a goal in the first and the empty netter at the end to seal the win for Rowan.
After allowing the first goal, Natiello, who is entering his senior season, shook off the rust and displayed the midseason form the fans were used to seeing him in last year.
“I had some jitters in the beginning,” Natiello said. “But after the first ten minutes, I felt calm and collected and settled in. Luckily, the puck started to bounce my way and as the game wore on, we all shook off that rust and played great.”
Once the proverbial “rust” was gone, the young Profs began to take to the body of the Seahawks, not fearing to lay crushing checks along the boards and in open ice, setting the tone for the rest of the night.
Rowan showed the youth and lack of experience early, but as the game wore on, they began to cut off Wagner’s opportunities in the slot and showcased impressive passing lanes in neutral ice.
“These young guys are still learning the system,” said Head Coach John Caulfield. “As they begin to pick it up and learn, I think their game is going to really tighten up.”
Rowan entered this season with a young core of talent, as the veteran group that took the team to the playoffs last year are no longer around.
“We have 15 guys here who have a year or less playing at the college level,” Caulfield said. “We are definitely in a rebuild, but we have a good, young group of guys here.”
For this young squad, all eyes will be on Natiello, who played 10 games last season in a rotation with Cody Reilly, and will be looked upon as the leader for the next crop of Rowan hockey players. This is a role he looks to embrace.
“It definitely feels different after backing up Cody [Reilly] for three years,” Natiello said. “It’s definitely a fresh start and it feels good.”
Despite the youth movement, Caulfield is confident that his squad can return to skating on postseason ice come the springtime.
“I expect us to be where we always are. The playoff hunt,” Caulfield said. “I know I’m setting the bar high with all of these new guys, but if I set it high, they will aim at it.”
The Profs remain home to face Virginia Tech at the Hollydell Ice Arena next Friday at 8:15 p.m.
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