Kent State hockey looks to reach nationals for first time since ’09

Kent State freshman forward Lucas Ethington carries the puck forward against John Carroll on Jan. 19, 2018. The Flashes won the game, 9-2. 

Chad Flannery

“17th,” said coach Jim Underwood.

The number 17 is the lifeline of the Kent State hockey club as the playoffs creep closer.  

“We are currently sitting in 19th place, and we have to get to 17th to make nationals,” Underwood explained.  

With four games left, the stakes couldn’t be higher.  A chance at the national title is what every player dreams of, and right now, Kent State is two spots away from securing that chance.  

The top 20 teams will qualify for the national playoffs, but the regular season winners of each of the three leagues qualify for an automatic playoff berth. With Adrian College securing the top seed in the Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League, Kent State is no longer in play for an automatic berth.

Now the Flashes’ magic number is 17.  

As for league playoffs, the Flashes have already secured a playoff berth, and they will have either the two, three or four seed depending on how the final week of the season plays out.  

However, the league playoffs don’t factor into the national rankings. Therefore, the Flashes must finish the season strong to move up in the rankings.  

The final two weeks consist of a set of games next weekend against No. 16 Davenport University (14-9-2).  

The national rankings are developed using two components: the number of wins by two or more goals, with a maximum goal differential of seven, and the number of wins by one goal. Those two numbers are averaged together, and then teams’ averages are ranked highest to lowest.

In order for the Flashes to move up, they must win, score frequently and limit the amount of goals scored against them by both opponents.

The coaches are confident in the team and know that, to have a fighting chance, the team must have a strong weekend.

Underwood said his team’s weekend sweep of Mercyhurst last weekend “set the stage for a big showdown against Davenport for a trip to the national tournament.”

In last year’s league playoffs, the Flashes upset Davenport to move on to the semifinals, and this year they are ranked higher in the league than Davenport, so they are feeling confident about the matchup.

Many of the players are welcoming the challenge and are confident in the team’s ability to reach the national tournament.

“This is definitely the closest the team has been in our four years together,” said assistant captain John Buttitta.  “Everyone chips in more and makes the team more skilled and well-rounded.”

Senior goaltender Sky Buller said the team has accomplished a lot of its goals.

“When you look at the season as a whole, you will see that we have won a lot of games, accomplished a lot of our goals we set and are on pace to finish the highest that we’ve every finished in our league,” Buller said.

Not only have the Flashes won a lot of games, but two weeks ago, the team broke the record for most wins by a Kent State hockey team in a season, which was previously 20. The record was set during the 2008-09 season, which was also the last time the Flashes made the national playoffs.  

“Last year, we got to see a group of seniors leave it all out there and pull off an upset in the league playoffs against Davenport, and it was amazing to see.” captain and senior defenseman Mike Sullivan said. “This year, as seniors, we want to do the same thing for both league playoffs and nationals, and I truly believe we can do that.”

The seniors on the team also agreed that they want to leave a lasting image on the program.

“At this point, it’s about our legacy,” senior forward Jake Hainline said. “A national championship would be huge for team, and for us to end our careers at Kent State with something like that would be amazing.”

Chad Flannery is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].