As freshmen at La Salle College High School, Patrick Hanrahan, Jason Lombardi and Justin McKenney looked on at their 2009 varsity ice hockey team with envy.
The team had just won the state title the year before, and were gearing up for an eventual repeat. Members of that team advanced to NCAA Division I, while a few others progressed to the National Hockey League’s minor league – the American Hockey League.
“We saw what type of work ethic they brought to every practice and no matter what, they were going 100 percent every time they were on the ice, so we modeled ourselves after those guys,” Hanrahan said. “We wanted to have just the same amount of success as they did.”
La Salle has a championship history. After all, the Philadelphia Catholic League power won each of the previous four Flyers Cup tournaments, and has taken four state titles in its history.
“Everyone came to La Salle hoping to make that varsity team and in turn, winning in the state championship,” Lombardi said. “When you see La Salle win it two years in a row, you don’t want to be that team that doesn’t win, especially because you want to win it for yourself.”
The trio, which now competes together on Temple’s ice hockey club, said La Salle’s coach of 17 years, Walter Muehlbronner, played an integral part in development both on the ice.
“He definitely taught us a lot about work ethic, how to be a hockey player and how to play to a professional sense,” Hanrahan said. “[He taught us] to be disciplined, to play for one another [and] it’s not a selfish game.”
All three players began their careers with the Explorers’ AA junior varsity team. Lombardi rose quickly to the varsity AAA team, but Hanrahan and McKenney stayed at the junior level.
“I think Pat and Justin bloomed a little bit later, if you will, as far as everything coming together than it did for Lombardi,” Muehlbronner said. “But, it’s not to take anything away from them. I will give them a lot of credit. They worked extremely hard and were very dedicated. I think if they did not work as hard as they did, they [might] have gotten passed by somebody else.”
Hanrahan and McKenney didn’t sulk, however, as both players advanced to JV AAA by the next year. McKenney was dubbed the “trash man” for his aggressiveness in front of the net.
“I just had the uncanny ability to be in front of the net and always seemed to pick up the loose rebounds in pucks,” McKenney said. “I was really good at getting in goalies’ faces, messing with defenses’ minds and pretty much getting my goals, whether it was standing in front of the net, making deflections, [or] making screens and picking up the trash.”
Lombardi, meanwhile, lost in the state championship in 2011 before McKenney and Hanrahan bolstered a roster full of upperclassmen their senior year. Muehlbronner paired Hanrahan with Lombardi, who proved to be a formidable duo.
McKenney’s transition was less smooth, as he came into the season recovering from a broken femur and torn anterior cruciate ligament. The injury occurred at the end of his junior season and was supposed to keep him sidelined for a full-year. McKenney joined the varsity squad five months later, after playing solely with the junior team.
“I only missed the first game of AAA before [Muehlbronner] decided to bring me up full-time for the rest of the season,” McKenney said. “I decided to stay on AA and play every game for AAA, except the first one.”
The added reinforcements helped the team top Bethel Park High School, 6-2, in the state championship to a cap a 24-2 season.
“At the beginning of the year we told ourselves that there’s not any reason that any team should beat us this year,” Lombardi said. “Up and down our lineup was just filled with talent and we said nothing could get past us this year and nothing did.”
The championship pedigree carries over to this year’s Owls, who are looking to duplicate a similar ending by reaching the American Collegiate Hockey Association regional playoffs.
“We know what it means to win,” McKenney said. “To go as far as you can go. Certainly we traveled through high school with that, and there’s nothing more that we want than for this team to have that same kind of feeling here.”
Stephen Godwin can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @StephenGodwinJr.