Owls’ senior goalie Will Neifeld was named to the ACHA D-II Select Team.
Despite achieving numerous individual accolades, ice hockey senior goalie Will Neifeld said he won’t be satisfied until he wins a national championship for his team, something that has eluded the ice hockey club in the program’s history.
Neifeld was a breakout star for Temple ice hockey last year in his first season with the team. Neifeld won League MVP and Goalie of the Year in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association conference while leading the Owls to their first appearance in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Nationals.
But for Neifeld, leading the Owls to their most successful season in program history and simply appearing in nationals isn’t enough.
“I’ve already won all the personal awards so it’s not about that anymore,” Neifeld said. “It’s about having a chance to compete for a national championship. It would be special for the team and school, and something we would never forget.”
Neifeld started his collegiate ice hockey career in a small school, CW Post Campus of Long Island University, in Long Island, N.Y. After playing there for two years and winning multiple individual awards including League MVP, the Miami, Fla. native decided he wanted to transfer closer to his family, who were living in the Philadelphia area.
“There are extremely strict tampering rules so [Neifeld] came to us and called us so he could be closer to home,” coach Jerry Robert said. “We were very happy about it and he came in and made a name for himself pretty quickly.”
Neifeld added that in addition to having the chance to have his family see him play, a chance to play at a bigger school with better competition and national exposure also contributed to his decision to come to North Philadelphia.
The 5-foot-11-inch goalie didn’t waste any time. Neifeld became the Owls’ man in the crease immediately and it paid dividends. With the Owls’ all-time leading scorer Ryan Frain leading the offense and Neifeld holding down the defensive end, the Owls made the national playoffs for the first time.
For the season, Neifeld logged more than 1,400 minutes in net while saving 808 of the 874 shots he faced and shutting three teams out, good enough for a save percentage of 92 percent. The MACHA took notice, awarding him not only the Goalie of the Year award against the other 11 goalies in the regional conference, but Neifeld also beat out all the scoring forwards for the leagues overall MVP award.
“It’s a nice thing to be awarded. I know what I can do and I feel like I’m the best goalie in the country,” Neifeld said. “But it wouldn’t be possible without the guys in front of me. To me it was more special to be a part of the team that was the first to make nationals in school history.”
As much credit as Neifeld gives the guys in front of him, those guys said they are just as happy to have the comfort of knowing Neifeld’s behind them.
“It’s definitely comforting,” senior defensive captain Jordan Lawrence said. “We like keeping the opponent out of the middle because we know [Neifeld’s] going to stop almost all of those shots from the outside.”
“It’s nice knowing [Neifeld’s] back there,” Roberts added. “It changes the way you play because if you protect the middle of the ice, he’ll take care of the rest. He keeps us in games a lot of times.”
This year, Neifeld’s play has stayed at a high level but his team has been leaving him out to dry. The Owls are 1-10 and have allowed 43 goals in 11 games. Neifeld has faced an average of more than 36 shots per game, yet has maintained a save percentage of 91 percent.
Neifeld’s stellar play over the past two years has garnered him national attention from the college hockey world.
The ACHA Division II commissioners announced Neifeld would be part of their 21-man roster for the National Select Team. The team tours Europe in late December to play five games against teams from Austria, Germany, Slovenia and Croatia.
“It’s a huge honor to represent not only your school, but your country,” Neifeld said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Neifeld is one of two goalies to be named to the roster and Roberts said it’s no coincidence, he thinks Neifeld is the best there is.
“[Neifeld] came in at the top of his game and he has been the best goalie in the country in my opinion,” Roberts said. “He has been consistent since day one and really set the tone as soon as he walked in the door.”
Setting the tone, consistency, and leadership are all things that teammates applaud their goalie for.
“As a leader [Neifeld] is very vocal, he really tries to communicate with the forwards and defensemen on the ice during the game,” senior offensive captain George Rutter said.
Neifeld mentioned he has received some interest from the New York Islanders organization of the National Hockey League, but will wait until the end of the year to decide on his future.
“I’m just focused on this team and this year,” Neifeld said. “It’s all about trying to get a national championship.”
Brandon Stoneburg can be reached at email@example.com.