Brady O’Donnell sat on the Owls bench in helpless disbelief.
O’Donnell’s team held a 2-1 lead against Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey rival Penn State on Oct. 26, 2014, but it gave up the equalizer with 5 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the game.
“I remember watching from the bench in the Penn State [game] with about five minutes left and it just takes a huge chip out of your game,” O’Donnell, a senior forward, said. “When you’re up like that, you just start playing preventative hockey instead of sticking with your game and trying to put pucks in the net.”
The Ice Lions ended up winning in overtime that day, an illustration of the problem that plagued the ice hockey club for much of the 2014-15 season – protecting leads late in games. The Owls ended their season on the wrong end of a 4-3 overtime defeat to Rowan in a MACH first-round playoff, a game in which they allowed two goals in the third period before losing in extra time.
Though they held a Top 10 spot in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Southeast divisions, the final regional rankings, released last week, had the team in 11th, one spot away from a regional playoff spot.
After a season in which Temple missed the regional playoffs for the fourth consecutive campaign, its players are left wondering what could have been.
“I just think that when you get a lead, especially a two-goal lead, you start to get the mindset that you have a chance,” junior defenseman Anthony Civitella said. “When your competition is ranked so high, you can never really take a shift off. Sometimes that hurt us. Sometimes we would think that we had a game locked up and then we would give up a goal, and it would put us back on our heels and we wouldn’t be able to recover.”
The late-game collapses are particularly evident during the last five minutes of games, as Temple has allowed 14 goals with five minutes or less remaining in regulation.
The team’s captain, senior Greg Malinowski, and others gave the team pep talks about responding to such shifts in momentum, but O’Donnell said it did not always translate to results on the ice.
“[We] try to tell each other that [we] can do it, but it just makes it that much more difficult when you give up a goal with 20 seconds left,” O’Donnell said.
The blame for those situations cannot be placed squarely on a particular position, as each spot has had its flaws during the season.
“I know it wasn’t really goaltending,” O’Donnell said. “[Senior Eric Semborski] stood on his head for multiple games. We wouldn’t [have been] considered for [the regional playoffs] if it wasn’t for him. Sometimes it’s defense [and] sometimes it’s offense.”
O’Donnell said the momentum shift can have a downhill effect on the victim’s bench, as coaches and players usually begin bickering with each other in the heat of the moment.
“You have to have it in your mind that you’re going to play 60 minutes and in those third periods we just didn’t do it,” O’Donnell said. “The teams we were playing were just able to come back and bite us with it.”
Stephen Godwin Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveGodwinJr.