The first dose of NC State men’s hockey came in covering the phenomenal “Backyard Brawl” event that saw UNC and NC State square off at PNC Arena in front of an energetic college sports crowd. Canes and Coffee recapped the game and the event HERE.
We check in with Wolfpack hockey at the end of a season that concluded with the ACCHL tournament last weekend.
Canes and Coffee would like to extend a huge thank you to Drew Blevins for providing his in-depth, ‘from the rink’ insight into North Carolina State’s 2016-17 season on the ice.
Drew Blevins is the play-by-play voice of the NC State Wolfpack hockey team. He is in his fourth season with the Pack. After playing 13 seasons with the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes, Blevins is happy to be calling games because it’s a way to stay around the sport he loves.
Article by Drew Blevins
There is little comfort that comes with the end of the N.C. State Wolfpack hockey season. Once again a solid State lineup made the ACCHL Admirals Cup championship game, and once again the team lost.
This season’s runner-up finish feels much different from last year’s disappointment though. There’s a silver lining through the bitterness of another championship loss, and that ray of light is the fact the Wolfpack got a chance to develop young players in their system and will reap benefits from their young guns as soon as next year
In 2015-16, N.C. State was a red terror who steamrolled their way through the ACCHL, going 9-1 against competition in the league and earning a regular season title. The Pack was expected to bring the Admirals Cup back to Raleigh, but they failed.
This year’s team clawed their way into the playoff as the fifth seed with an ACCHL record of 5-3-1. Hardly the glamorous team of ACCHL lore, a young corps that had talent coupled with the experience of a handful of seniors developed into the vaunted force N.C. State hockey is accustomed to.
Wolfpack hockey started red-hot, running out of the gate at 5-1 through the season’s first three weeks, but then State state fell into a hole due to injuries. Tyler Alfonzetti and Will Biberdorf, both top-six forwards, were lost to injuries in the second game of the season at Elon.
Calvin Stone, Ryan Lenzmeier, Jack MacDonald and Andrew Kristof would all miss some time due to various ailments throughout October and November, but a gritty Pack team earned a 7-6 win over rival UNC-Wilmington on October 14.
Head coach Mike Gazzillo tested his team by scheduling a road trip to play a top-ten Maryland team in October, and while the Wolfpack gave one of their best efforts of the season, State dropped the contest 4-3.
The following weekend though, the Wolfpack watched as their captain, Sam Banasiewicz was taken out of a 3-2 loss to Wake Forest. Banasiewicz would miss the remaining seven games of the first semester with a lower body injury.
Fight though they did, N.C. State mustered only two-goals per game in the seven game span without Banasiewicz, going 0-6-1 to end the semester.
The worst loss during the skid was a 8-2 drubbing at (17) Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack dropped their final game of the semester, blowing a 2-0 third period lead to Duke and losing 3-2.
The first semester ended with the worst half-season record in Mike Gazzillo’s tenure at 5-7-1. Furthermore, the Pack would open the second semester facing three top-20 teams in a row. But, the team would finally be healthy.
“Sometime during the end of the first semester I asked [Sam Banasiewicz] how the locker room was, and he said the guys were tight. They never got down on each other,” quoted Gazzillo, reminiscing on the season.
January 13, 2017, marked the revival of N.C. State hockey. After trailing to (7) Louisville 5-1, the Wolfpack stormed back to tie the Cardinals 7-7 at the end of regulation. In the sixth inning of a shootout, Andrew Kristof beat Nick Nuss to secure an N.C. State victory.
The following day, State exacted their revenge on Virginia Tech with a resounding 8-4 win over the Hokies.
State would add on wins against Clemson and Charlotte as the Pack started the second semester winning six of their first eight. The only slip-ups came to (2) Liberty and (22) Wake Forest.
On February 2, N.C. State packed up and headed two miles off campus to face rival North Carolina in the “Backyard Brawl” at PNC Arena.
In front of just shy of 6,000 people, N.C. State and UNC battled deep into the third period tied 1-1. With 2:57 to go in the game, Banasiewicz, the captain, beat Gabe Harousseau on the long side to push the Wolfpack to a rivalry win over Carolina.
“It’s the most exciting game I’ve ever played in,” said team president and defenseman, Chris Wing.
The Wolfpack weren’t done with their flair for the dramatic though. Two days later, the Wolfpack battled the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks in the Port City and earned an overtime win 4-3, marking the Pack’s first win in Wilmington since 2012.
Despite a Senior Night loss to Elon, N.C. State had swagger heading back to another ACCHL Tournament under Mike Gazzillo. State’s opening round matchup was a familiar opponent- Charlotte.
The 49ers were no match for the mighty Wolfpack who used goals from Ryan Kinney, Sam Banasiewicz (2), Reed Farhat, and Tyler Alfonzetti to defeat Charlotte 5-2.
The win set up a rematch of the 2016 Admirals Cup championship game between N.C. State and George Washington. With a trip to the finals at stake, the teams battled deep into the night.
Banasiewicz again delivered for N.C. State as did both of his line mates, Will Biberdorf and Luis Giminez. State would stretch their lead in the third period to rout GWU 6-2.
However, the top-seed Virginia Cavaliers awaited the Wolfpack in Sunday’s title game. The Cavaliers came into the game with a 10-0-1 record in the ACCHL.
Even though State took a 1-0 lead into the first period intermission, the Cavaliers struck often in the second period.
Andrew Kristof was taken out of the game after an uncalled knee-to-knee collision in the second period and two goaltender interference calls were missed, leading to UVA goals.
“Officials don’t score goals obviously, but we felt we were getting the short end of the stick on some of those calls,” said Geoff Wing, the Wolfpack assistant coach.
Ultimately, Virginia would rally for five unanswered goals to earn them a 5-1 victory and their first Admirals Cup since 2000.
“I’m proud of the guys, they faced some real adversity this year,” said Gazzillo after the loss. For Coach Gazzillo it’s the fourth title game loss in the last five seasons.
Digesting a championship loss is tough, as always, but next season looks promising for the Wolfpack. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys who are going to be seniors, I mean look at the guys we’re talking about,” relayed Gazzillo.
Those guys include Wing, Banasiewicz, Biberdorf and Giminez, the latter thee composing the top line.
For the winningest program in the ACCHL’s 21-year history, next season might be the one that sees an Admirals Cup return to Raleigh.
Canes and Coffee congratulates the NC State Wolfpack on a fine season that demonstrated resiliency battling back from injury woes and a tough first half of the season to finish strong. It is also encouraging to hear about the prospects for the 2017-18 season with key players returning.
Thank you again to Drew Blevins for sharing his firsthand account of the Wolfpack’s season!
Also on Saturday’s local hockey theme, check out the recap from the Jr. Hurricanes team that played in the Quebec Pee Wee tournament last week.
Also check out a similar recap of UNC Hockey’s 2016-17 season HERE.