On Friday night, junior forward Stephen Kennedy skated in on a breakaway and wristed the puck past Delaware goaltender Joe Marshall to give the Owls a one-goal lead. But it was what happened in the moments after the goal that exemplified the team’s struggles this season.
Kennedy taunted the Delaware bench, receiving an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and virtually setting up the Blue Hens’ tying goal on the ensuing power play.
“[Penalties] are something that have been plaguing us all year,” sophomore defenseman Jason Lombardi said. “I think we take at least four or five penalties a game and against teams in this league it’s hard to kill them all off. And we dig ourselves a hole.”
Through the 26 games of the regular season, the Owls tallied 407 penalty minutes. Spending more than 15 and a half minutes in the penalty box per game has largely been the result of a lack of discipline. Most notably, in instances when opponents start trash-talking and creating scrums after the whistle, the Owls have been unable to resist the temptation of jawing back – resulting in them taking more penalties. This lack of discipline to stay out of the box has frequently affected the outcome of Temple’s games this year and is something the team is focusing on heading into the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
Although the Owls are focusing on limiting penalties, coach Ryan Frain said it’s challenging to do while in practice.
“We’ve kind of tried in the past [to focus on discipline] in practice,” Frain said. “But it’s hard because it slows down the practice. It’s just more of a mental thing, and a focus thing and we have to do the best we can.”
The team’s inability to transfer that focus on discipline from practice to games has shown on its record. The Owls have lost several games they were leading in by continuing to commit penalties and allow the opponent back in the game.
Jan. 31’s game against Virginia Tech is a prime example of such failed execution. With a lead in the second period, the Owls gave up three power play goals that resulted in a 6-3 loss and eliminated the team from playoff contention in the American Collegiate Hockey Association regional playoffs.
“Our [discipline] for Virginia Tech really wasn’t that good,” Lombardi said. “Three of their five goals were on the power play. If we limited the penalties, that changes the game.”
Although the Owls remained a longshot to be voted into the American Collegiate Hockey Association regional playoffs, a win against a top competitor like Virginia Tech would have greatly improved the team’s chances.
In order to make a deep run into the MACHA playoffs, the Owls recognize the need to limit the penalties and stay out of the box.
“We’ve always been a chippy team,” senior goaltender Chris Mullen said. “We love getting into the scraps and talking s— and stuff like that. But we’ve seen that that’s pretty much killed us all year, so if we want any serious run at any sort of championship this year, it’s something that we have to improve upon and just shut our mouths.”
Temple plans on using the MACHA tournament, a less prestigious tournament than ACHA’s, as a test to see if the team can play penalty-free for a full 60 minutes, and as a confidence-booster for underclassman for next year.
“We are more than aware that we have beat ourselves through penalties all year long,” senior Joe Pisko said. “We are going to use the MACHA playoffs to prove to ourselves what we are capable of doing when we play a full 60 minutes of even strength hockey.”
“This will be a great way for the seniors to leave everything on the table and a huge boost for the young guys who will be returning next season,” Pisko added.
Samuel Matthews can be reached at Samuel.email@example.com or on Twitter @SJMatthews13.