The NC State Icepack saw six different goal scorers dust off the twine, as the team easily cruised past the Elon Phoenix 6-1 to snap its two-game losing streak.
While the first period resulted in a goalless 20 minutes, the second and third periods each saw three goals a piece from NC State. Missing leading goal scorer freshman Chris Soloman due to an undisclosed injury, the Icepack saw important contributions from up and down its lineup.
“Every game that’s what you want,” said head coach Mike Gazzillo. “You can’t be a one or two line team and go far. Same thing last year. We had that really good run and we got scoring from all the lines. When you can come out and get six different guys score that’s basically critical for us.”
The first period was a bit of a learning curve for the Icepack as it struggled out of the gate against the Phoenix. Elon made it hard for NC State’s usually juggernaut-style offense with a collapsing defensive strategy that saw bodies clogging up both passing and shooting lanes.
“We just had to make some quicker decisions with the puck,” Gazzillo said. “If they are taking lanes away, you have to find out where they are not. That comes with keeping your head up, making better decisions and getting guys moving and creating new passing lanes.”
However, it seemed that 20 minutes was all NC State needed to figure out Elon as the Icepack broke the metaphorical ice less than a minute into the second. Sophomore Riley Johnson collected the puck behind the Phoenix net and fed sophomore Parker Szarek right in the slot for a one-timer straight to the back of the net.
Elon quickly responded, wasting no time in tying the score on a breakaway two-on-one rush that resulted in a tap-in five-hole on NC State senior goaltender Josh Cannon.
Just as the game seemed to have slowed back down, freshman Victor Hugo weaved his way across the blueline and, once there, skated unimpeded further into the Elon zone where he let go a wrister that barely squeezed through the Phoenix goaltender Doug Connor.
The floodgates started to open more as freshman Matt Miller stickhandled past an Elon defender and down the right side of the ice, saucing a pass to freshman linemate Garret Auriene cross ice for an easy open-cage goal.
The third period opened up much the same as the second with the Icepack finding a goal very early after the opening draw. Senior captain Ryan Kinney found himself all alone on the top of the left circle after senior Laythe Jadallah drew multiple Elon players and fed Kinney from deep in the offensive zone. Kinney collected it and sniped the puck top corner as the goalie couldn’t get reset in time.
“We broke it out, got past the defender, I gave it to Nikita [Anistratov] and then Laythe [Jadallah] got it deep in the zone on the right side,” Kinney said. “I was coming in on the left side up top and he passed it to me. It was a little bit behind me, but I caught it and just shot it.”
Despite the score, Connor continued to make save after save for the Phoenix in the face of the Pack’s onslaught of shots. While many squeezed by here and there, Connor really kept his team in the game with multiple point-blank and other big saves.
After coming up huge, stoning a breakaway from Kinney, Connor was left out to dry by his teammates. The Icepack recollected the puck after the initial save and set up a tic-tac-toe goal that ended with junior Nikita Anistratov ripping home a cross-ice feed from Kinney.
NC State capped off the game on the power play in the final minute of play with a goal from senior Matt Costigan. After Connor again had made an initial save, this time on senior Owen Drugan’s shot, Costigan was able to collect the puck next to the goaltender and toss it over his sprawled form into the net.
“It’s big, yeah,” said Kinney on the win. “I think we know what level we can play at. Part of that tougher schedule is we are going to lose, but I think coming off of those tougher games we play teams that might not be that caliber, but we should still be playing at that caliber. We shouldn’t play down. We should always have that same pace and win the battles. We have to hold ourselves accountable more. I know we won, but I still think we have a lot more to give.”
The Icepack will play next Friday, Nov. 1 when it takes on UNC-Charlotte for the first time this year at the Raleigh Iceplex at 9:30 p.m.