When freshman forward Cody Vassa joined Temple’s ice hockey team, he had a friend on the squad from day one.
Vassa and sophomore forward Brady O’Donnell both grew up playing youth hockey in the Delaware Valley Hockey League for the now-defunct Lehigh Valley Comets. Though they played in different age groups, the two knew each other well in their youth.
O’Donnell’s brother played with Vassa during the 2003 and 2004 seasons with the Comets in the “squirt” age group. O’Donnell and Vassa also saw each other play multiple times in the DVHL and the Lehigh Valley Scholastic Hockey League.
The Comets merged with the Bethlehem Blast after the 2010-11 season, to form the Lehigh Valley Flames, where Vassa finished out his youth career last year.
While O’Donnell and Vassa knew each other for years in their youth hockey days, they are now getting the opportunity to take the ice as teammates for the first time.
“We didn’t play together before college, but I knew [Vassa] growing up,” O’Donnell said. “I knew how he played and we are a lot alike.”
“We found out at tryouts this year that they knew each other,” coach Jerry Roberts said. “I didn’t know anything about the extent of their friendship or anything, we just knew they were from the same area and knew each other from hockey.”
Though Vassa and O’Donnell were dressing for the same team for the first time, they didn’t expect to be taking the ice against Millersville University in the season opener as part of a line with junior forward Pat Schramm.
“[Roberts] never told us we’d be on the same line,” O’Donnell said. “He definitely did it on purpose but he never told us why. Hopefully we stay together.”
Although he lined the two friends up together in the season’s first game, Roberts emphasized the strategy behind the move.
“[O’Donnell and Vassa] have really similar playing styles,” Roberts said. “Usually in building lines we try to focus on a strong pairing of players and a third player who complements them and brings something to the table that the two others don’t have. [O’Donnell] was paired with [Vassa] because of their playing styles and we thought they would play well together and mesh well with [Schramm].”
“[O’Donnell] and [Vassa] are higher-skilled players and you need someone in there who’s going to bring an intense and physical style of play like [Schramm] can,” Roberts added. “The way their line operates is someone dumps it in the zone and Schramm will go in the corner and get the puck to [O’Donnell] and [Vassa].”
Roberts’ move paid off as O’Donnell and Vassa both tallied goals.
“Both of those goals were blue collar type of plays, where rebounds got put in,” Roberts said. “They weren’t pretty or flashy, just simple, hard-nosed hockey plays.”
“Playing with [O’Donnell] definitely helped a lot in that first game,” Vassa said. “Everything seemed to flow a little bit because we play the same type of hockey. It helps having [Schramm] in the center to throw his body around a little too.”
“Familiarity helps as a line,” Roberts said. “Players don’t have to spend as much time on the ice looking at what their teammates are doing. They’re able to focus more on the game and executing individually. Any time we have the opportunity to pair up players like that, we try to do it.”
While the season is still in the experimental stages, Roberts didn’t shy away when discussing the potential of his third line.
“We recognize there’s some potential here,” Roberts said. “They definitely have chemistry on the ice and we recognize the potential they have to be a solidified line that we can count on throughout the season. Having that line stay together and becoming a group that will be relied on for offense is something we’re considering.”
While the line of O’Donnell, Vassa and Schramm has potential, the star potential in both O’Donnell and Vassa is something that has caught the eye of their coach.
“We see both of them in a year or two being a really big part of our team,” Roberts said. “They could play a much larger role than they do now on offense. They are on the third line right now, but given time they could play a crucial role for us.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @daParent93.