Sean Pickens skated to the thin strip of old, unflattened blue carpet haphazardly sprawled out on the ice.
As one of seven seniors on Maryland, Pickens was being honored prior to Friday’s game against Kutztown at Herbert Wells Ice Rink.
When he reached the end of the carpet he was greeted by teammate Tim Blount, who handed him a bouquet of flowers to give to his family in attendance. Pickens took the flowers and walked halfway down the carpet toward the open door exiting the rink before turning around towards his bench, smiling and gesturing for two particular teammates to join him for a photo.
Captain Avery Clair and goalie Tanner MacPhee picked up on the signal and skated over to Pickens, for a photo of the three freshmen to make the team in the fall of 2013.
“We were the only three freshmen on that team, I think we pretty much bonded that year as the three freshmen,” Pickens said. “We’ve come a long way.”
“I think this year especially, I mean Avery wasn’t assistant captain last year, but I think this year especially we kind of stepped up and have tried to be the best leaders for the team that we can.”
Over the years the three elder statesmen were joined by other 2017 classmates via transfer and promotion from the D3 club team.
Michael Shearer, who joined the team after transferring to Maryland in January 2016, was exposed to the camaraderie among the team right away.
“Guys like Sean and Avery and stuff like that being the leaders, they kind of facilitated the transition on the team and they made it easy,” Shearer said. “I loved it here, I would encourage anyone to transfer and come over here because anyone is welcome.”
That sense of belonging, along with blistering speed and talent helped the Terps to a 13-2 win Friday.
Although head coach Jim Gaudet stressed to his team during Thursday’s practice not to overlook Kutztown, the final score quickly became a formality when Maryland scored seven goals in the first period.
Clair scored two goals 2:22 apart and Eli Gorgevski-Sharpe added a pair of power play markers to propel the Terps to a 7-2 first intermission lead.
The Terps’ only consequential errors came early in the opening period, when several failed clears resulted in quality scoring chances for Kutztown.
Goaltender Sean Rankin, who made his second consecutive start Friday, initially bailed out his team with a series of timely saves, but ultimately surrendered two goals by the period’s end.
“I think they outshot us 13-12 in the first period,” Gaudet said. “We were having trouble getting it out of the zone. I thought we cleaned it up as we went along.”
Maryland’s play in their own end did improve as the game progressed, limiting the Golden Bears to just 14 shots over the final forty minutes.
In all other facets of the game the Terps were dominant, monopolizing possession and putting a total of 42 shots on goal.
“They did a good job after that first period but definitely that’s something we’re going to have to be solid on going forward here,” Gaudet said.
Pickens scored his second of the night on the man-advantage seven minutes into the second period, depositing a rebound past goalie Kevin Koerner, who completely lost sight of the puck amid a barricade of bodies.
Maryland’s unhindered ability to get players in front of Kutztown’s goal was paramount to the team’s offensive success Friday, especially on the power play.
“We did a great job of getting in front of the goalie,” Gaudet said. “It’s been a problem for us all year, getting in front, screening the goalie. We just can’t seem to get there and [Gorgevski-Sharpe’s] goal from the point on the power play and another shot from the point, I don’t think the goalie saw it. Guys were standing in front, guys were putting in rebounds.”
Zach Arden tallied the Terps’ fourth power play goal later in the period, burying a feed from Clair. By game’s end, the Maryland power play went an impressive 4/6 against Kutztown.
With a double-digit lead for much of the third, Gaudet managed his bench’s minutes in preparation of Saturday’s showdown with rival UMBC.
The UMBC game has major playoff implications for the Terps. Maryland, who has already clinched a berth in the MACH playoffs, could be as high as the two seed should they beat the Retrievers on the road. A win against the tenth-ranked UMBC squad would also go a long way in helping Maryland reach regionals.
“I think it might be their senior night, so they’re going to be coming out hard just like we did tonight,” Pickens said. “Huge game, we’re going to try to put this one behind us. Obviously we enjoyed it, we had some fun but we’re going to put it behind us and try to put together a good three periods tomorrow.”
The Terps take on the Retrievers at Reisterstown SportsPlex 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
According to head coach Jim Gaudet, he might not be at Maryland if it weren’t for the seniors that will be celebrated prior to Friday’s game against Kutztown.
“They were a big part of the group that brought me here,” Gaudet said. “They had a lot of say in me coming to Maryland.”
Now in his second year with the program, Gaudet said that prior to taking the job he met with many of the team’s current seniors, including captain Avery Clair, Tanner MacPhee and Sean Pickens.
“I was impressed by what they had to say about the program,” Gaudet said. “I was impressed by the way they carried themselves. So they did play a role in me coming to this school.”
In what will be their last home game of their careers, Maryland’s seniors will have an opportunity to improve their chances of qualifying for regionals, something they have never done as a group.
The ACHA rankings currently have the Terps at 17, but have not been updated since the team’s two-goal loss to fifth-ranked Penn State and a thrilling overtime victory over eleventh-ranked Rider last weekend.
Wins Friday against Kutztown and then at UMBC Saturday would go a long way in helping regionals become a reality.
Senior goaltender Sean Rankin emphasized the team needs to come away big this weekend.
“Definitely [Friday] we have to care of business and then a good statement win against UMBC,” Rankin said. “That’s what we definitely need. We still have a shot at making regionals but we need to get some statement wins against [Kutztown and] UMBC and then move on to the Crab Pot next weekend. There can’t be any slip-ups or anything like that.”
Despite out chancing a majority of their opponents over the past two weekends, Maryland only has a 2-3 record in that span. This week in practice Gaudet has instructed his team to get shots on goal and capitalize on scoring chances.
“We were emphasizing hitting the net,” Gaudet said. “I thought last weekend and the weekend before we’ve been missing the net too much.”
But most importantly, he has reminded his team to win for this group seniors that have meant so much to the program.
“We’re emphasizing that we’re playing for them, not only Friday night but this weekend and the rest of the season,” Gaudet said. “We want to keep going as long as we can, especially for those seniors.”
The Terps host Kutztown at Herbert Wells Ice Rink Friday at 8 p.m. Seniors Sean Rankin, Sean Pickens, Nathan Miller, Avery Clair, Mike Shearer, Benji Weiner and Tanner MacPhee will be honored before puck drop.
In the mind of Zach Arden there was no doubt that his team could comeback against Rider Saturday.
With under 20 seconds to go in the third period and Maryland down a goal, their season was on the ropes. Another loss for the seventeenth ranked Terps would make it practically impossible for the team to qualify for regionals.
The clock showing 15 seconds, Rider cleared the zone and forced Maryland to retreat back to the neutral zone. With Rider players stacked along the blue line, Maryland dumped the puck into the corner and chased.
As the last few seconds ticked away, the puck was moved to the point and was immediately sent back toward the net. The puck found the left pad of Rider goaltender CJ Lineman and then Arden’s stick.
Arden shot it. The buzzer sounded. The goal counted.
And it may be the goal that saves Maryland’s season.
“You can’t ever think that you’re not going to win until the buzzer sounds,” Arden said.
Arden’s last-second goal forced the game into overtime, where Eli Gorgevski-Share would end it 2:45 into the extra period to give the Terps the 4-3 win.
“Those kind of plays a lot of guys would give up there,” head coach Jim Gaudet said. “Basically half a second left on the clock when he shot that puck. But he doesn’t give up and did a really good job there.”
Maryland appeared to be in control late in the second period, with a 2-1 lead and receiving rock-solid goaltending from Sean Rankin.
Things changed when Sean Pickens was given a five-minute major for hitting from behind and was ejected. The penalty gave Rider a five minute power play, in which they scored twice to take the lead.
“I talked to the ref and felt like he had to make the five-minute call and I didn’t disagree with him,” Gaudet said. “He sees it and he makes that call. We did an OK job on that penalty kill, we killed the five-on-three and then they got those two goals there.
“But again we beared down, killed the rest of the penalty, went to the locker room and just told the guys let’s try to keep it five-on-five for the third period. Try to be disciplined and that’s what they did.”
Rider carried the lead into the third and almost added to it with about six minutes left on a shorthanded breakaway chance. As the shooter deked he put the puck on his backhand and tried to slip it between Rankin’s leg pads. The senior netminder quickly took away the opening and turned the shot aside, keeping his team in the game.
“Sean played incredible,” Gaudet said. “He hasn’t gotten a whole lot of chances this year. We decided to go with him tonight. Like I’ve been saying from the beginning of the year, any goalie we have we’re confident in, any player we have we’re confident in. So we put him in a big situation, we had complete confidence in him and he delivered in a big way.”
Rankin, who made his first start since November, stopped 19 of 22 shots.
The save gave the Terps a chance to tie it up late and with under two minutes to go, Gaudet pulled Rankin for the extra attacker. A Rider tripping penalty moments later gave Maryland a six-on-four advantage for the remainder of regulation.
“I’m just standing there waiting for a rebound, nobody picked me up,” Arden said. “It came to me and it’s just kind of lucky but we’ll take it at the end of the day.”
Shortly into the overtime period, Gorgevski-sharpe capped off the improbable comeback with a shot from just above the goal line that hit off a body in front and went into the goal.
The win against eleventh ranked Rider Saturday, combined with only a two-goal loss to number five Penn State and a win against ninth ranked Rowan last Saturday is sure to move the Terps up in the rankings. But the team needs to keep winning if it hopes to find itself in the top twelve by season’s end.
“The win’s huge,” Gorgevski-Sharpe said. “It’s good for rankings, it’s good for team morale and we’re looking forward to the next one."
Maryland hosts Kutztown Friday at Herbert Wells Ice Rink before traveling to Reisterstown Sportsplex to take on rival UMBC Saturday.