An electric crowd at the Wake Competition Center in Morrisville, North Carolina was treated to a spectacular game of hockey on Friday, Sept. 17 as the NC State club hockey team tore through the rival UNC Tar Heels in a 10-3 victory.
“It's always great to beat the Tar Heels,” said head coach Tim Healy. “There's no one time more enjoyable to be, especially for us and then the community as a whole. One thing I know about the NC State community: they'll turn out in large numbers to see NC State beat North Carolina in bocce, so whatever it is, they're there.”
The Icepack took control early, dominating the possession and looking for opportunities to strike at the opposing net. The first of those opportunities came in the ninth minute of the game as senior forward Parker Szarek netted the Icepack’s first goal of the season, giving his squad a 1-0 lead.
In what became something of a trend as the night went on, NC State quickly repeated its goal-scoring effort with another. A shot by senior forward Colby Pederson got past UNC goalkeeper Will Douthit, who went on to have a night he’d like to forget. Almost nine full minutes into the game, the Icepack already held a 2-0 lead. To the chagrin of the Tar Heels, NC State was nowhere close to done with the scoring action.
The Tar Heel attack, for its part, had its moments. A shot from UNC forward Ben Rees dinged off the crossbar on a breakaway chance in the first period, but the NC State defense clamped down on the UNC attack for the overwhelming majority of the game.
“That's the one area of our team where we have a lot of newcomers,” Healy said. “Our forwards are pretty experienced. I was happy with how they played. They moved the puck well, broke out the puck well, so I was pleased with our defense.”
That first period saw the Icepack’s lead grow to 4-0 by the time the horn blew for the first intermission, but this was merely the beginning of what was an all-out assault on UNC’s net. The Icepack scored thrice more in the second period, notching a pair of power play goals in the last seven minutes.
The Tar Heels became increasingly frustrated with the onslaught of goals that they were having to endure, and the tempers started to flare following a quick save by NCSU junior goalkeeper Eric Daniel. UNC defenseman Daniel Jones was penalized for roughing, and although the two sides chirped at each other throughout the night, the next significant fracas would not occur until midway through the third period. The talent disparity between the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels certainly added some animosity to an already heated rivalry.
“We’re gonna beat UNC for the next, I would say, decade,” Pederson said. “Honestly, we have a great program we're building here and I can't wait to see what the future holds for us.”
That final period included plenty of rough and rowdy hockey, as the chirping escalated into a series of scuffles. Daniel surrendered three goals to the Tar Heels in quick succession, diminishing the Pack’s previously massive lead of 9-0 to a mildly less impressive 9-3. Losing out on the shutout seemed to vex the Icepack, but it was UNC who saw one of its own head to the penalty box in the resulting kerfuffle.
Granted, the game was well within hand for the Wolfpack at that point, having put up nine goals on its rival already. Pederson secured a season-opening hat trick early in the third period with a two-goal flurry in just 46 seconds to maximize NC State’s lead at 9-0. The 10-3 final score was cemented via a goal by senior forward Alex Robinson later in the final period.
“I think [junior forward Chris Soloman] and [junior forward Matt Miller] being on my line really helped me,” Pederson said. “They looked at me when I was open and I probably wouldn't have scored two of those goals without them.”
The Icepack will now have to turn around and immediately hit the road for an away matchup against the Liberty Flames on Saturday, Sept. 18. Healy surmises that State’s performance in the neutral zone will be the difference between and losing that game.
“[The biggest improvement] has to come through the neutral zone,” Healy said. “I think we need to be crisper with the puck, not turn it over. Because there are some passive in-plays. We did that if we turn over if we do that tomorrow, we're gonna be in trouble.”