Rivalry tensions heat up in Backyard Brawl

Rivalry tensions heat up in Backyard Brawl

RALEIGH — Rivals: a word tossed around like a penalty flag yet never truly defined. Whether you believe UNC or N.C. State are rivals or not, one thing is clear — the players go into this hockey match like it's a battlefield.

In one or the most intense and electric games PNC arena has seen since Marcus Paige conquered the arena as his own in 2014, the Icepack (10-6, 6-2 ACCHL) prevailed in a 6-5 win over the Tar Heels (7-14, 3-6 ACCHL).

There was never a shortage of scoring in this one, as N.C. State jumped out to a quick lead. The Icepack delivered countless shots before the Tar Heels could even must an attempt on goal — but UNC made its first attacks count.

Ben Sisemore delivered an equalizing goal roughly 10 minutes into the first period to tie it up at one apiece. It seemed the game was destined to go into the first intermission knotted up, but senior Jonah Graffius potted a goal with under a minute left to give the Tar Heels a 2-1 lead.

The fast-paced action continued into the second period, as N.C. State scored on a breakaway before adding two more early in the period to take a 4-2 lead.

But the Tar Heels still wouldn’t bow down as Sisemore slipped another shot past the goalie to close the gap to one. The momentum was dampened by another Icepack goal to push the score to 5-3, but the Tar Heels made it clear they weren't going down without a fight.

The third period started off much like the first two, except this time the Tar Heels struck first. A sick goal from Ricky Chen on an assist from Andrew Jordan early in the third cut the margin to 5-4.

Then, it got heated.

Shortly after the goal, the Tar Heels found themselves with a chance to tie on a breakaway, but the collision between a UNC skater and the Icepack goalie led to the goal being knocked out of place, thus resulting in the play being blown dead. It was a shame for the UNC faithful as Graffius was right there for the follow-up, which would've been the game-tying goal.

Still, UNC had showed grit and determination all game, so why stop now? A goal from Peter Kelly right at the 7-minute mark knotted things at five goals each. The back-and-forth pattern of this game was bound to boil tensions over at some point — and it was Kelly's goal that broke the floodgates loose.

Multiple fights, involving ejections from players on both teams, broke loose.

But there was still hockey to be played — and a rivalry to be won.

Both teams attacked and countered deep into the game. But an Icepack goal with just under four minutes left gave N.C. State a 6-5 lead it would not relinquish.

How's that for a rivalry?

@WillDBryant

Photo by Will Bryant