The 2010-11 season started on a high note for Tech’s club hockey team, as the Jackets won their season opener on the road on Friday, Sept. 24 at the Duluth Ice Forum. Tech jumped out to an early lead and held off a resilient Emory squad in a physical contest for a 3-2 victory.

The Jackets, who compete in Division III of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), picked up where they left off at the end of last season. They defeated Emory 10-5 and 8-2 in their last two games of the 2009-10 campaign; ultimately, they were able to make it three in a row against the Eagles’ thin lineup, but Emory put up a fight.

“It’s not that we underestimated Emory so much as that they surprised us. They’ve upped their game [a lot] in one year…and I think the frustration level [went up] when we couldn’t put in four or five goals a period,” said Assistant Coach Paul Gattung.

It took little time for Tech to get on the board and take an early lead. With 18:11 left in the first period, freshman defenseman Marc Hedglin—playing in his first game in a Tech uniform—passed the puck to senior center Michael Midgette in front of the net. Midgette managed to slip the puck past Emory goalie Ian Margol for Tech’s first goal of the year, and the Jackets had a 1-0 lead.

As the opening period went on, the game turned into a very physical contest as Tech attempted to expand its lead.

The teams traded penalties over the next five minutes, and in the final seconds of a four-on-four situation, Tech senior winger Jeremy Spafard took the puck on a breakaway but was held by Emory winger Omar Moid. It forced Moid to the penalty box but also prevented a Tech scoring chance.

Late in the period, with both teams at full strength, sophomore defenseman Alan Dagesse took the puck on the perimeter and fired a wrist shot that got past Margol. Junior winger Ben Gartner picked up an assist on the play as the Jackets took a 2-0 lead with 3:18 left in the period.

The physical nature of the game took center stage as the second period got underway. The Jackets and Eagles traded hits for the first few minutes, and neither team was able to line up many decent shots on goal. Tech had one opportunity in the second minute when junior center Zack Berry and freshman winger Michael McKinney played the puck back and forth to set up a shot for McKinney, but a well-aimed shot to the goalie’s five-hole was knocked aside.

With 14:52 left in the period, Emory’s Pesce was sent to the penalty box for hooking, and Tech capitalized on the power play. Berry played the puck in to Fritz, who was close to the Emory net, and Fritz fired it in for his first goal of the season to give the Jackets a 3-0 lead with 14:01 left in the period.

With 7:20 left in the period, Tech picked up its first penalty of the period and the first of three straight Tech penalties. The Jackets were able to kill the first, but as the second neared its end, Emory’s front line crashed the net and Pesce was able to slip the puck past the goalie Lucas to get the Eagles on the board. The goal came with 1:55 left in the period and cut Tech’s lead to 3-1.

In the third period, Emory took advantage of a Tech mistake to further cut into the Jackets’ lead. After an Emory player shot from the right side, the rebound floated to Pesce on the left; Lucas was out of position, and before he could react and cover the net, Pesce fired a wrister in for the Eagles’ second goal with 11:26 left.

The Jackets fired multiple shots after an Emory penalty, but still they were unlucky and were unable to add to the one-goal lead. After Tech was flagged for interference with just over eight minutes left, Emory looked strong on the power play but Lucas and the Tech penalty kill unit held up, preserving the 3-2 victory.

The Jackets out-shot Emory 65-25 in the game and received a strong performance from the reliable Lucas in goal. Tech did commit eight penalties, though, and both players and coaches highlighted that as an issue.

“I think we got bogged down in their game instead of trying to play our game. We can play a physical game, but tonight that wasn’t benefiting us because we took so many penalties,” said senior defenseman Dan Podratsky.

With a full lineup that combines veteran experience with a handful of talented rookies, the Jackets are hopeful that they can once again contend for a spot in the ACHA national tournament. Tech qualified for the 2008-09 tourney after going 22-2 during the regular season, but a thin roster limited last year’s squad to 10 wins and no postseason play.

Returning to the 16-team tournament is one of Tech’s two primary goals, alongside the traditional goal of winning the Savannah Hockey Classic in Jan.

“We’ve got a lot of depth with returning players and a lot of senior leadership, and we’re ready to work hard all year,” said senior center Marcus Lostracco, the club president. “We’re a tight group, and we want to make something out of it.”

As is the case with any team in the early weeks, Tech has areas where it is looking to improve, and the players highlighted the defensive struggles in Friday’s game as one such area.

“If one guy’s missing his assignment, that throws everybody off and it can lead to a guy being wide open. One blown coverage can affect everybody,” Podratsky said.

Despite the early struggles, the team has had little trouble developing chemistry in a short time frame and will look to continue to improve in the coming weeks.

“For only having two weeks of practice, our lines were really clicking, and a lot of our new players stepped right in,” Lostracco said. “We’ve got the skill and we’ve got the numbers; we just need to work on our teamwork.”

The Jackets resume play this weekend as they host Tennessee and Auburn at the Marietta Ice Center on Friday evening.