To the surprise of no one who attended last season’s even, the battle between North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill at PNC Arena on Monday night was a tremendous night of local hockey entertainment.
There were long lines outside of both east side entrances 10 minutes before the game started and fans continued to stream in and fill up additional sections as play started. Unique to the event is also college sports type atmosphere with competing pep bands and the usual school cheers. Add in youth hockey teams in their team jerseys attending the game together, and the event very much had a local hockey feel to it.
Just like last year, the most notable part of the event was the atmosphere and its showcase for local hockey.
And the game itself had every bit of the UNC/NC State rivalry to it with physical play and some chippy moments.
The game itself
On the ice, Carolina entered the game with a 6-10 record (including two overtime losses) and figured to be the underdog. The Icepack from NC State on the other hand entered the game near the top of the ACCHL standings and marching toward an eventual playoff berth.
Against that backdrop, the game started ominously for the Tar Heels. NC State tilted the ice into the offensive zone early and applied pressure. After a few minutes of playing almost completely on one side of the ice, NC State actually got on the scoreboard on a fairly harmless shot. Coming in off the rush, Hayden Dewey fired from an odd angle and seemed to surprise Carolina goalie Gabe Harousseau to seize an early 1-0 lead for the team in black and red.
The start was ominous, but the Tar Heels rebounded after that. Harousseau settled in and played well through the rest of the first period, and the team in sky blue struck next when freshman John Beeson scored on the power play with an assist to Ricky Chen. Regular helpings of power play time seemed to help Carolina find a rhythm that they carried through the end of the first period and into the second period. After settling in, Carolina showed that they could play with the Icepack. They did a decent job of checking NC State’s top line that included senior leaders Sam Banasiewicz and Luis Gimenez. They used power plays to tilt the ice into the offensive zone. And their line of John Beeson, Jessie Aney and Joe Baglio warmed up. That trio scored in the second period to post the Tar Heels to a 2-1 lead with Beeson’s second goal of the game.
But the game turn suddenly midway through the second period when NC State struck twice in rapid succession. First, Gimenez found an opening to shoot and fired from between the face-off circles and into the net. Less than 30 seconds later, the Icepack struck again on a tough luck goal. The play saw NC State center the puck off the rush. The puck did not so much find a stick but caromed off something such that Harousseau had trouble tracking it before it found the net behind him.
The two quick goals seemed to energize NC State and at the same time deflate Carolina. From there, NC State took control of the game and was the better team through the remainder of the second period and into the third period. When they struck again to stretch their lead to 4-2, the landslide seemed to be underway. But just like the first period, Carolina seemed to right the ship and hang on. Play evened out early in the third period, but when NC State’s Ryan Lenzmeier scored on the rush shorthanded to extend NC State’s lead to 5-2, the game seemed to be over.
Give Carolina credit for not quitting and pulling to within 5-3 late when John Beeson beat the NC State goalie with a blast for his third goal on the night. Carolina had a couple really good chances to score, pull within a single goal and make things really interesting. But it was not meant to be, and NC State closed out the game with a 5-3 victory, but not before things got chippy, and there was a minor fracas near the end.
In the end, I think NC State is a better team right now, and that won out over the course of the game.
A few player notes
Ricky Chen (UNC) – He either had or was around the puck in all three zones all night with a good stick defensively and the ability to carry the puck in the neutral zone and offensive zone. If my tally is correct, he netted only a single assist but was a key part of the formula that kept Carolina competitive.
Eric Webb (NC State) – He collected two goals and an assist and was named the first star in a winning effort for the squad from Raleigh.
Luis Gimenez and Sam Banasiewicz (NC State) – The two leaders for NC State did not have a huge game on the score sheet. Gimenez scored a huge goal to tie the game, but that was all they had. But their chemistry and skill still showed through as they had multiple shifts moving the puck in the offensive zone and seemingly being on the brink of scoring multiple times.
Jessie Aney (UNC) – The Carolina power play ran through Aney (the only female player in the ACCHL) who handled and distributed the puck from the side wall all night. With numerous power plays and a decent number of scoring chances set up by Aney, a bit more finishing from the power play could have helped.
John Beeson (UNC) – On a night when UNC could have used a bit more finishing, he was the one player who had it. He scored all three of Carolina’s goals and earned the second star of the game for his efforts. He is a freshman and looked to be a big part of UNC Hockey’s future based on his clutch play in Monday night’s game.
Ellis Rushford (NC State) – Rushford was one of many Icepack players who were physical throughout the game. NC State seemed to have an advantage in terms of size and also physical play which helped them hem Carolina in at times with physical play in puck battles and on the forecheck.
Catching up with UNC coach Jeff Volkman
I spoke briefly with UNC Head Coach Jeff Volkman after the game. Despite the loss and the disappointment that comes with it, he said that he took many positives from the game. He said, “The way some players stepped up was impressive and definitely something to build on when the season resumes in January.” Volkman also said that his team showed that it could compete with NC State especially giving credit to his team for significantly slowing NC State’s leading duo of Sam Banasiewicz and Luis Gimenez. Volkman both credited them and his own team at the same time when he said, “We did a great job slowing their top line which was part of our game plan. That line is arguably the best line in the league.”
Those positive building blocks could be relevant fairly soon, as the two teams are scheduled to face-off again in late January. The game is marked TBA on UNC’s schedule and NOT officially scheduled for PNC Arena, but I hear that it is a possibility.
If you were unable to attend Monday’s game, I highly recommend you make it a point to attend the next NC State/UNC hockey match up.