WEST GOSHEN — As far as West Chester East head coach Eric Wolf is concerned, his hockey team hasn’t played a full 48-minute game yet.
Friday night’s Ches-Mont game against Unionville was no exception as the Vikings watched a large lead slip from their hands and almost cost them, but they held on for a 3-2 win at Ice Line.
“If you talked to me 40 minutes ago, this probably would be a different conversation,” Wolf said. “We got a little full of ourselves with a three-goal lead and didn’t finish the way I’m expecting us to finish. We had enough goals to win the game and yes, we did win the game, but not the way I want to see us win.
“In the third period, we were still fresh, but we just took a mental holiday and now we have to realize we have to be invested for 48 minutes. If we can do that, I like our chances, but right now, I don’t think we’ve done it yet, even though our record may say differently.”
With the second half of the season now underway and with his players all starting to return to the lineup from injury, the Vikings (11-1) went in the opposite direction Wolf thought he would see.
“We’re getting healthy now and my expectations are going up,” he said. “My expectation is that we have skilled, smart players returning to the lineup and our skill level and intelligence so go along with it and, actually, our depth. We should be fresher at the end of games because I’m able to roll three and sometimes four lines. That should be a luxury at this time of the year.”
Despite having the depth and ability to play three lines, Wolf had to shorten his bench in the third period after allowing Unionville’s (8-4) Parker Wine and Danny Hargadon to score four minutes apart to pull within one.
“Tonight, we should have been able to keep going with those three, three-and-a-half lines and keep them going, but we fell asleep on it,” he said. “If we’re going to do that, our aspirations of late February are going to be very short lived.”
Though the first goal came from junior Eddie Russell, the second two came from underclassmen in freshman Nicholas Castura and sophomore Dylan McLaughlin.
“Getting Nick Castura back has been nice,” Wolf said. “He had a nice game against Great Valley the other night and he spots us tonight with a great tip-in. We’re going to need that. It can’t just be (Chris) Rodier, Russell and (Christian) Juliana – that’s not how we’re built. If we’re going to be successful, we’re going to need the Dylan McLaughlins, the Nick Casturas and the Charlie Carsellos. They’re going to have to be a part of it, but on the flip side, they’re not just going to have to score, they’re going to have to defend.”
McLaughlin’s game-winning goal early in the third period was the difference maker for East, which also happened to be a short-handed tally after goaltender Michael Hansen misplayed the puck.
“We did some scoring, but in the third period, we need some defending and that’s where we kind of fell asleep,” Wolf said. “If we don’t get that great hustle play from Dylan going down when the goalie misplayed the puck, it could be the difference between a point and two points. It’s a great hustle play and that’s how you win games, especially if we fall asleep like we did tonight.”
To make things more interesting, none of them have been able to beat the same two teams, leaving the door wide open for quite a finish next month.
“It’s a tough division,” Wolf said. “Who knows how it could go? If Rustin beats Downingtown East tonight, they have two wins on them. If we beat Rustin on Monday, then we have two wins against them. There’s no rhyme or reason – just good, competitive hockey. Whoever makes their own breaks could wind up being at the top at the end of the regular season. We almost let two points go tonight. I guarantee you if we came out of here with one of zero (points), we would be kicking ourselves mid to late February when that point could have been all the difference. That’s the mentality we have to have. We’re just not there yet.”