From Technician Online
By Joey Biancone
The NC State Icepack has been nothing less than successful over the past few seasons. The team has won four straight Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League (ACCHL) Championships, highlighted by advancing to the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Tournament in 2019 and 2021.
No one can argue that the team isn’t rising to be one of the most dominant college hockey squads in the Southeast, but it is going to have much more competition as divisions have been realigned within the ACCHL to help bolster more exciting matchups this upcoming season.
Third-year head coach Tim Healy and new team president Victor Hugo have made sure to challenge themselves this season as well, building a schedule that brings in many top-tier opponents to the newly rebranded home barn, Invisalign Arena.
The old offensive core from last season, including Chris Soloman, Parker Szarek and Riley Johnson, will not be returning to the program for the 2022-23 season, so there is a lot of room for the youth to shine and take over massive roles for the team. With Icepack tryouts completed and the final roster determined, several players look to have a breakout campaign this year.
ACCHL Division Realignment
The ACCHL added new teams and realigned their divisions to create a more competitive atmosphere for the 2022-23 season.
NC State is now in the most prestigious division the ACCHL has to offer, the Premier Division. The league took the existing Carolina East Division, consisting of NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC-Wilmington and added Virginia Tech from the former Virginia division.
Penn State and Rowan are newcomers to the ACCHL this year. They both come from the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey (MACH) league and made the ACHA Southeast Regional tournament, along with NC State, last year.
These six teams will now compete against each other atop of ACC Division Two Hockey. For NC State, they will have more of a challenge than ever before to achieve their fifth-straight ACCHL Championship.
The remaining 15 ACCHL teams will play in three separate lower tier divisions and compete for a separate title.
New Name, Same Barn
For the past few years, Icepack fans are used to “packing” the Wake Competition Center. The location is staying the same, but the barn is getting a name upgrade.
The Carolina Hurricanes announced back in April that the Wake Competition Center would be rebranded into Invisalign Arena due to the team’s partnership with the Invisalign brand for its 2022 Stanley Cup Playoff run.
The arena has already gone through its cosmetic makeover and will be ready with the new branding for the Icepack to drop the puck on Sept. 23 versus the Drexel Dragons.
The Icepack’s schedule is stacked this year with many exciting matchups. Three games in particular stand out as the ones you should mark on your calendars and purchase tickets for at icepackhockey.com.
Oct. 13 vs. University of Mary at Invisalign Arena
This one has revenge game written all over it. Back in the 2020-21 season, the Icepack traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota to compete in the ACHA National Tournament. The University of Mary Marauders were the team that sent NC State on the long plane ride home. After a 5-1 rout without a trophy, UMary would go on to become national champions not only that season, but last season as well.
The back-to-back defending ACHA champions make the trip to North Carolina for a late-night Thursday brawl at the barn in arguably NC State’s biggest must-win game of the season.
Nov. 12 vs. Liberty University at Invisalign Arena
A new tradition was born last year between ACHA D2 rivals Liberty and NC State. Each year, the teams compete in a two-game series (one home, one away) for the Wagon Wheel trophy.
NC State and Liberty split the series last year, but Liberty ended up winning in an “unofficial shootout” at the end of game two.
The Icepack look to win their first Wagon Wheel trophy at home, as game two will be played at Invisalign Arena.
Nov. 21 vs. UNC-Chapel Hill at PNC Arena
Please note, this date is preliminary and subject to change based on the Carolina Hurricanes schedule next season, but that still doesn’t dwarf the importance of this game.
This will be the tenth meeting between the NC State and UNC hockey clubs at PNC. Also, this will be the fifth annual Governor’s Cup. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is an avid hockey fan and comes out each year to drop the puck and present the trophy for the matchup.
NC State has claimed the cup each of the five times since its creation, but expect a much closer matchup this time around.
Young Core and Senior Leadership:
We saw how valuable the youth could be for the Icepack last year. Look no further than the top scoring freshman forward Zack Robinson (19G, 7A, 26P), or top overall scoring defenseman Alex James (5G, 17A, 22P). The goalie with the highest save percentage on the team last year was freshman Isaac Tawyer (95.8%).
A tradition in Icepack culture is for rookie skaters to wear yellow laces until they score their first goal. The rookies tend to shed their yellow laces sooner rather than later.
This year will be no different. With 12 new faces on the team, there will be a lot of new skate laces going around for the first few weeks, but that can’t happen without the veteran leadership from the past few years of successful ACCHL title runs.
One guy that quickly comes to mind is senior forward Matt Miller. He is a gritty player, never scared to throw down the gloves and give the crowd at Invisalign Arena a show. He will fill in nicely as the first line center this year, finishing third in points on the team last year with 37. He will be one of the focal points of the Icepack’s offensive scheme.
A surprise return by fifth-year senior forward Alex Robinson will help bolster the Icepack’s offense even more. He has been seen to handle both offensive and defensive responsibilities throughout his college career, but expect to see his shiftiness put to work to lead the line rush.
Senior forward Garrett Auriene finished last year’s campaign tied for third on the team in assists with 22. Expect no regression this year as he is one of the fastest players that can draw defenders to him and open up the ice for his teammates. Auriene should also be one of the team’s top forecheckers and a valuable asset on power plays and penalty kills.
(Originally published at https://www.technicianonline.com/sports/icepack-hockey-season-preview-lots-of-change-same-winning-culture/article_bdbe6b0c-2e58-11ed-aa6b-77fc588383b1.html)