The Puck Drops Here

by Joe Seil
photograph by Jamie Germano

He’s been a head coach for more than 500 games at various collegiate levels and has been an assistant coach for hundreds more, so the historic magnitude of the event wasn’t lost on Nazareth’s George Roll.

“I was a little nervous,” admits Roll, who was behind the bench for the Golden Flyers’ inaugural puck drop Oct. 18 vs. Geneseo at the Sports Centre at MCC. 

As much out of curiosity as genuine interest for the home team, more than 2,000 fans—many of them students—shoehorned their way into the arena to watch the fledgling Flyers’ first flight. Despite just three official days of practice, Nazareth was able to rally for a 3-2 overtime win.

“It was everything we could have hoped for,” says Pete Bothner, Nazareth’s director of athletics. “There was a lot of buzz on campus leading up to the first game. We had a great crowd and a great college atmosphere … winning the game was a bonus.”

Putting a competitive product on the ice was a 14-month process—from announcing the program’s formation to finding an off-campus venue to hiring a coach to recruiting players and, ultimately, to dropping the puck.

Roll was hired in July 2011 and spent the better part of a year behind the wheel (instead of behind the bench) scouring North America and points beyond for quality players. The end result was a 36-player roster with student-athletes from all over the map, including Canada, South Africa, and Russia. “I wanted guys who were willing to believe in the process,” says Roll, who was head coach at Oswego and Clarkson before coming to Nazareth. “I wanted guys who were willing to work hard and be disciplined.”

For the first game, the excitement built to a fever pitch in anticipation of the first face-off. The crowd roared, it seemed, every time a Nazareth player skated near the Geneseo net. Then, with the game still scoreless midway through the opening period, Nazareth defenseman Jordan Ciccarello ’14 gave the crowd something to roar about as he stick-handled through a pair of defenders and scored the first goal in the program’s history. He celebrated by jumping into the sideboards, inciting the crowd even more.

Geneseo dominated the action thereafter and rallied to take a 2-1 lead early in the third period, but Nazareth goalie Ed Zdolshek ’16 kept the Golden Flyers afloat by making 50 saves.

“After Geneseo went ahead early in the third period, I was just hoping that we could make a good showing and represent ourselves in a positive way,” Bothner says.

Nazareth exceeded that expectation as Ciccarello’s second goal of the game 6:30 into the third period tied the score and forced a five-minute overtime period. “Then I got to thinking that a tie wouldn’t be a bad result,” Bothner says.

Expectations were exceeded again as Nazareth earned a power-play opportunity early in the overtime. Playing the point with the man advantage, defenseman Reed Smith ’14 flipped a shot toward the net that eluded the Geneseo goaltender for the game-winning score to give Nazareth a 3-2 win.

“It was an unbelievable feeling because it felt like the whole school was behind us,” says Zdolshek. “It felt great to get the program started on the right foot.”

“From an execution standpoint, we knew that Geneseo would be a little bit ahead of us, so we knew we would have to compete hard,” says Roll. “It goes to show that hard work and commitment can carry you a long way.”

One game down, many more to follow.

Joe Seil is the sports information director and assistant athletic director at Nazareth College.