The ice hockey team waited until the third period of its game against Penn State on Sunday to wake up and play. But the last-minute effort wasn’t enough.
After beating St. Joseph’s on Friday and Rowan on Saturday, the Owls lost to Penn State on Sunday, 2-1, to make their record 2-1 for the Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association Showcase this weekend.
The tournament is not a major event, but a scheduling opportunity for teams in the conference to play one another during a three-day span.
“It’s a disappointment,” coach Jerry Roberts said. “We expected to go 3-0. Two-and-one sounds great, but we’re at the point now where we know what games we should be winning and it’s not enough just to have a good game. We need to start getting results.”
Despite the loss, the game on Sunday was highly competitive. Penn State controlled the puck at the start of the game and consistently got the puck deep into the Temple zone, forcing the Owls’ junior goaltender Will Neifeld to make some tough saves early on.
“You can’t expect to come out here on the third day of a three-game set to beat a team that’s more talented than the first two teams that we played,” Neifeld said. “So to come out with the same effort that we applied to the first two games just won’t cut it, as you can see by the result today.”
Temple’s offense gained momentum after a Penn State penalty nine minutes, 10 seconds into the game. The Owls set up the power play well, and although they didn’t score, they seemed to find their flow offensively. However, the first period – defined by good defense and solid goaltending on both sides – ended scoreless.
“They willed this game tonight,” Roberts said. “We didn’t quite have that same level of intensity that they had.”
The second period was very similar to the first. Each team’s offense performed well but was stymied again and again by the opposing defense. Temple had a power-play opportunity early in the second where they were again successful in setting up the attack and getting shots on goal. However, the Penn State defense stonewalled the Owls and the Nitanny Lions’ goaltender made four saves to kill the penalty.
“It all comes down to heart,” senior forward Ryan Frain said. “If you don’t have heart, you’re not going to drive to the net, you’re not going to want the puck, and if you don’t want the puck, you’re not going score.”
Penn State’s offense reciprocated the fine play of its defense in the middle of the second period. The Nittany Lions moved the puck into the left slot before Penn State sophomore forward Joseph Zitarelli fired a shot on goal. Neifeld made the save, but a rebound shot deflected off a Temple defender and found the back of the net.
“I made a save, and it deflected off of our own guy,” Neifeld said. “It wasn’t just a clean shot that beat us.”
The Owls’ offense seemed to get an energy boost from the Penn State goal. They controlled the puck for much of the remainder of the period and fired nine shots on goal in the second half. There were some loose pucks in front of the net that the Owls couldn’t bury and some centering passes that missed their targets. The period ended with a one-goal Nittany Lion lead.
“I think we were pretty unlucky tonight,” Roberts said. “There were some missed opportunities.”
Penn State didn’t waste time adding to its lead in the third period. Nittany Lion sophomore defender Alan Clark capitalized on a breakaway opportunity in the second minute after he dove at the puck and deflected a pass over the middle into the net to give Penn State a two-goal lead.
“Their second goal was just a great redirect on the rush,” Neifeld said. “Sometimes you just have to give a team credit when they deserve it.”
Like the second period, the Owls seemed to find a new energy following their two-goal deficit. Their offense sped up and moved with rhythm. With 11:52 left, senior forward Steve Danno fired a centering pass from Frain past the Penn State goaltender to cut the Penn State lead to one.
“Danno took the puck around the net. We had a cycle going around the corner. So Danno flooded the middle, I fed it to him, and he buried it,” Frain said.
But the awakening of the Owls’ offense was too little, too late. Penn State’s defense continued to play well for the remainder of the third period and turned away four Temple shots on goal. The Owls pulled Neifeld with just less than two minutes left, but it proved ineffective.
“You can’t have a team that sometimes wants to play and sometimes doesn’t,” Neifeld said. “It shouldn’t take a team to score to make us motivated and want to make us have intensity and heart. That’s the key to this team – intensity and heart.
“Until we become a team that has intensity and [is] that hungry every game, whether we’re playing the best team in the league or the worst team in the league, we’re still going to continue to struggle.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.