In a highlight-filled night against long-time rival UNC-Chapel Hill, the NC State Icepack held on against a Tar Heel counter-surge to secure its third straight Governor’s Cup Monday, Nov. 25 in an 8-6 win at PNC Arena.
The Icepack (14-3-0, ACCHL 6-0-0) now move to 7-0 in all-time meetings against the Tar Heels (10-2-2-1, ACCHL 4-3-0) inside PNC Arena thanks to big nights from sophomore Alex Robinson, who recorded his second hat trick of the season and senior defenseman Brendan Seppey, who recorded back-to-back goals in less than a minute from the same spot.
“It always feels great to win here,” said senior captain Ryan Kinney. “I don’t think we have lost here ever since we’ve played so that’s cool. It’s always a great feeling. The crowd’s electric and having that many fans is unreal, the support is great.”
Right off the puck drop, the game was all Icepack. Starting off the offensive barrage, for which NC State has become so well known for, was sophomore Parker Szarek, who fired it into the empty net as a beautiful passing sequence from freshman Chris Solomon and sophomore Riley Johnson left the UNC goaltender helpless.
Moments later, Robinson notched his first of the night as he picked up the rebound and roofed it over the Carolina netminder.
The offense continued to find a groove as Seppey joined the fun, threading not just one, but two shots from the far right of the point through traffic and into the back of the net.
“We just have a really solid D-core all the way up and down the ice,” Seppey said. “We aren’t going to limit that offensive firepower that we know that we can have.”
The defense had activated and this time it was junior Cam Mazikowski who’s blast from the point hit a UNC stick out front and sneaked in five-hole.
That was just the first ten minutes.
The Tar Heels managed to grab one back as Ben Rees found himself out on a breakaway. NC State goaltender Ian Hutchinson had started to race for the puck but pulled off. However, he couldn’t get set in time as Rees’ shot beat him shortside.
The Icepack responded quickly with Robinson picking up his second goal of the game. Robinson shot it into the goalie, picked up his own rebound and shot it backhand into the net all while turned away from the goal.
After the flurry of the first period, the second period proved to provide just as much excitement.
Right out of the gate again it was Szarek who found the fast goal as he came streaking down off the bench and straight to the slot where he tipped home a point shot from freshman Victor Hugo.
NC State started getting into penalty trouble and UNC took full advantage. On its first power play of the game, UNC capitalized with a rebound into a gaping net.
The Icepack got a power-play opportunity of its own, which it buried. Robinson completed the hat trick with a snipe that rang out as it went in bar-down.
“It’s a big stage, but we usually get it done here and I like to think I actually contributed to it,” Robison said jokingly.
Contribution is something Robinson has done in bunches now averaging a goal a game after his great performance tonight.
While things seemed to be looking like smooth sailing for NC State, that was not quite the case.
UNC was awarded a 5-on-3 power play which it took full advantage of, scoring as the first penalty on the Icepack expired after a mad scramble in front of the net that the Tar Heels managed to throw in through the chaos.
Carolina grabbed one more before the second period came to a close marking a rough period for the Wolfpack as it saw a 7-1 lead cut to 8-4. While the Tar Heels were upping the physicality of the game, the Icepack was keeping its emotions in check to not be goaded into taking more penalties.
“There is a mental side,” Kinney said. “And hockey gets emotional. You have to balance that with the mental side and you have to keep it in check so you don’t take unnecessary penalties because the penalties really kill you sometimes. Giving them that man up can allow some goals that aren’t really needed, so you have to play smart, play physically, but not take it too far.”
The Tar Heels grabbed one more goal on another power play and cut the lead to two with a 3-on-1 rush that Hutchinson made the initial save on, but couldn’t collect the rebound on as Carolina buried another.
“They were down substantially,” said head coach Mike Gazzillo. “And you’ve got a choice, you can either give up or you can just fight and they fought. So credit to them for doing that. I think with the lead, the guys were a little more content with just playing the game instead of playing with the intensity that we had in the first period. That was really the difference. They had a little more intensity in the second half of the game than we did.”
Despite the buzzing from the Tar Heels, the NC State Icepack managed to hold out for the win as it topped UNC yet again.
“I think their goalie stepped it up,” Robinson said. “We weren’t getting the same shots we were getting early on. We weren't getting the bounces to go, but we still got it done, so it doesn’t make any difference.”
The Governor’s Cup marked the final match for the Icepack in the fall semester. Sitting at a 14-3-0 record going into the break, the Icepack will return to the ice on Jan. 11 as it travels to take on Elon.