The NHL may have canceled its season, but Temple hockey fans still have plenty to cheer about. In February, the ice hockey team, a varsity club team, won its third straight Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference championship.
As members of the Division II American College Hockey Association, the Owls battled teams like La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, the College of New Jersey, and Millersville to gain the title.
Though the Owls started the season 7-8, they finished a strong 8-1-2 in their final 11 games. That surge to end the season carried them to the DVCHC championship.
“We had a rough start,” coach Jamie Sabbatini said. “The coaches had to learn the team, and the team had to learn itself.”
Sabbatini is one of two coaches new to the team. He and assistant coach Erik Rivers came to Temple from the College of New Jersey. Temple and TCNJ are conference rivals.
Even though more than half the Owls’ roster was composed of freshmen, the team still set their sights on the title from the start of the season. After struggling early on, the Owls overcame their inexperience with strong ice play to break the slump.
In the best-of-three series for the championship, the Owls beat St. Joe’s in two games. Both games went to overtime.
“[The players] know when it counts.” Sabbatini said.
The Owls’ 1-0 win in Game 2 to seal the title was the first 1-0 win in Temple hockey history. Entering the series, the Hawks were ranked as the best offense in the conference all-time.
Sabbatini credited captain Mike Geiger with turning the season around.
Geiger, an ex-marine from the Philadelphia area, said Temple was the best fit when he decided to go back to college last year. He and junior Shawn Lynch served as co-captains this season.
“I got lucky and got to play on two great [Temple] teams,” Geiger said of the two championship squads.
Geiger said the other members of the coaching staff, assistant coaches Alex Luboff and Steve Day, deserve credit for bringing a revamped team so far in the postseason.
The Owls became the first DVCHC program to three-peat since the conference’s inception in 1971.
Two of the team’s key freshmen were goalies Jason Walker and Mike O’Neill.
When Owls starting goalie Matt Lennertz suffered an injury early in the season, he was replaced by the freshmen, setting a trend for the team’s season. Rookies stepped up in mid-season to fuel the Owls to the championship, Sabbatini said.
The Owls, who will lose only four players from this year’s squad, could be poised to win their fourth straight title next season. Not only does the championship streak bring respect to Temple as a dominant DVCHC program, Geiger said, it also attracts talented newcomers to a potential dynasty in the making.
Danielle K. Milner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.