Blue Hens

ACHA D2: Hens Ride Four-Game Win Streak To Playoffs

Eric Birnberg returned to action this weekend for the Blue Hens. (Tisa Della-Volpe)

Newark, Del. — After wins over Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Conference rivals Rowan and Rider last weekend, the University of Delaware Division 2 men’s hockey team closed out their regular season with two more home wins, defeating Millersville, 7-2, on Friday (Feb. 8) before staving off a late rally from Maryland on Saturday (Feb. 9) for a 5-3 victory.

As such, the Blue Hens close the regular season with a 23-9-0 record, having earned the most wins in a single season since the program’s inception in 2011. The previous mark of 22 came in the Blue Hens’ 2015 MACH championship season.

Delaware 7, Millersville 2

Friday’s 7-2 rout of Millersville at Gold Arena saw the Hens break out to a 4-0 first-period lead, with Devin LeBlanc accounting for two goals following a pair of rapid-fire tallies from Ryan Morse and Jeremy DeWit at the five-minute mark.

After Dennis Kohajda put the Marauders on the board with a power-play goal 41 seconds into the second period, third-line centre Mike Leather and defencemen Dylan Knox and Eddie Martorella extended Delaware’s lead to 7-1 with 4:11 left in the middle frame, a high-sticking minor assessed to Larry Hooper opened the door for the Millersville power-play unit to strike again. Mitchell Ferguson contributed the Marauders’ second goal 1:22 into the power play, jamming the puck past Delaware goalie Stephen Odgers from the edge of the crease.

Both sides were scoreless in the third period, despite Delaware peppering relief goalie Garret Baldacci with 20 shots. Baldacci, who replaced Hayden Folfas midway through the second period, stopped 23 of 24 shots faced after Folfas rejected 20 of 26. Odgers recorded 19 saves in victory for the Blue Hens.

Millersville captain Matt Iehle earned his 150th ACHA point with his assist on Kohajda’s second-period goal.

Delaware 5, Maryland 3

The Blue Hens overcame a sluggish start on Saturday at Fred Rust Arena to defeat Maryland, 5-3, ending the regular season with eight wins in their final nine games and completing a season sweep of their MACH South Division rival.

Penalty trouble for Delaware midway through the first period — Kyle Sapia and Alec Rankin serving holding and hooking minors, respectively — set up a five-on-three advantage for Maryland at the 10:51 mark. Just 18 seconds into Rankin’s penalty, Clark LeDane fired a slap shot from the top of the right circle past Delaware goalie Eric Birnberg to give the Terrapins the early lead. Just 2:14 later, Rankin answered with a power-play goal and his 100th ACHA point, turning back the rebound of a Steve Bryson wrist shot to tie the game at one.

After Matt Derry denied 21 of Delaware’s 22 first-period shots on goal, the Blue Hens took better advantage of the opportunities they generated in a three-goal second period. In the sixth minute, defenceman Dylan Green connected with Jeremy DeWit on a breakout pass up the right side of the neutral zone to set up a two-on-one attack. DeWit centred the puck to Ryan Morse, who put the Hens up with a wrist shot from the slot. Rankin added a second goal at 8:02, tracking down the rebound of a Dan Demas slap shot from the left point and increasing the Hens’ lead to 3-1 before a Steve Bryson wrist shot from close range sailed over Derry’s stick at 11:16 to give the Blue Hens a three-goal advantage at the second intermission.

The Hens gave up two goals to the Terps in a “bend-don’t-break” third period which saw them allow 14 shots on goal. Nick Keppler cut the Hens’ lead to two 2:25 into the final frame before a delay of game penalty issued to LeDane led to Maryland’s deficit once again increasing to three. Good puck movement from Delaware in the attacking zone set up a successful Morse one-timer from the top of the zone at the 4:20 mark, but Maryland’s Griffin Connolly beat Birnberg on a wrap-around to the right corner of the cage to again cut Delaware’s lead to two with 13 minutes to go.

Despite being pinned in their zone for much of the remaining time, the Hens dug in to kill off two penalties and keep Maryland scoreless with Derry pulled for the final minute of action.

Derry stopped 49 of 54 shots faced in defeat, while Birnberg — making his first start for the Blue Hens in over two months after studying overseas during the January term — saved 26 of 29 shots.

The Blue Hens and the Terrapins square off in the first round of the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs on Friday (Feb. 15). Game time at Fred Rust Arena is 4:30 p.m.; Delaware Hockey Night Radio will provide full coverage.

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