By Adam Lindner | Asst. Sports Editor
On Saturday night at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center, Duquesne’s club ice hockey team played the last game of its 2016-17 campaign as it fell in the semifinals of the College Hockey Mid-America (CHMA) playoffs to John Carroll University, 8-2. Though a six-goal defeat is surely a tough way to end the year, Duquesne head coach Conrad Waite insisted that the progress the team made this season isn’t negated just because of a poor final outing.
“I told them that any one game doesn’t define our season,” said Waite. “You know, everything we do doesn’t get erased away because of one game [and] doesn’t get validated if we win. I’ve never been prouder of a team, and we had a heck of a year.”
The game on Saturday night, which dropped the Dukes to 18-11 on the year, was for a spot in the CHMA conference championship game against the University of Pittsburgh. The .621 winning percentage was the Dukes’ best in eight seasons and just the second time they’ve reached 18 wins since the 2008-09 season.
John Carroll went on to claim the trophy the next day in a 4-2 defeat of Pitt in the CHMA title game. However, the Panthers won the regular season title and therefore claimed a spot in the ACHA national tournament that’s set to begin on March 9 in Columbus, Ohio.
Being that Duquesne was in the top half of its conference standings at the season’s conclusion and boasted a 4-0 season sweep over both perennial rivals and quality opponents Pitt and Robert Morris, Saturday’s loss was a bit of an aberration for a Duquesne team accustomed to winning. Even the Dukes’ previous meetings with John Carroll were particularly competitive: a 4-3 Blue Streak win on Oct. 29 and a 3-2 Duquesne win on Dec. 3.
After the game, Waite attributed the lopsided loss to, simply, rough luck.
“Honestly, it was something where John Carroll just took advantage of their chances,” Waite said. “You know, I thought for large stretches it was a very even game. They get one bounce, we don’t… They get one call, we don’t. You know, and it just kind of ended up going downhill. We had a stretch in the second where we kind of lost our focus because it wasn’t going our way, but I thought we did a really good job of bouncing back and playing to the end.”
After JCU built a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission, the Dukes responded quickly as Jason Bechtel scored a power play goal 1:17 into the second period. John Carroll then turned the competitive, seesaw game into an offensive clinic by tallying six unanswered goals. Duquesne’s Mitchell Eisenberg scored on a breakaway goal with 2:08 remaining in the game to render the score 8-2.
Heading into the offseason, Waite seemed confident in his team’s talent but wary of his team’s loss of leadership.
“I think the mindset is there for our team. I think a good offseason program, working off the ice and all of that kind of stuff [will be important] so we can come back better,” Waite remarked. “I’m losing a lot of leadership… I’m losing three defensemen that are the heart and soul of our team, so a lot of guys are going to have to step up as individuals next year [in] that way, even more than on-ice play.”
Losing four forwards and three defensemen to graduation, others will have to assume much more prominent roles within the locker room if the 2017-18 Duquesne team hopes to repeat this year’s success.
“This year has been special, [and] we exceeded a lot of expectations,” senior defenseman Michael Iannello said. “It’s definitely hard walking away from hockey, but I’m glad I got to finish my career with this team.”