The team fell, 3-2, in overtime against University of Maryland-Baltimore County on Sunday.
Temple ice hockey had three matchups this past weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association conference tournament. However, it took 12 periods of hockey to finish them off.
After winning on Friday, 4-1, against St. Joseph’s and Saturday, 3-2, in double-overtime versus Penn State, Temple lost to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in overtime at the MACHA conference final on Sunday, 3-2.
It was the first time in the ice hockey program’s history the team reached the MACHA conference tournament final. The team won three straight Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference championships from 2003-2005, but the MACHA is a much more well-regarded and competitive conference.
“Our goal for this season was to win the MACHA,” coach Jerry Roberts said. “Falling short, even though we made it further than we’ve ever made it before … it kind of hurt.”
The tournament consisted of the Top 6 teams in the MACHA conference, which is a sub-conference of American Collegiate Hockey Association, the overall governing body of club hockey. It is the same structure as NCAA basketball, in which there are conference tournaments before the National March Madness tournament.
The tournament works just like the National Football League playoffs do, in which the Top 2 seeds get a bye, the third seed plays the sixth seed, and the fourth seed plays the fifth seed in the opening rounds of the single-elimination tournament.
Temple was the third seed, and it got off to a good start to the tournament on Friday against sixth-seeded St. Joe’s, which Temple beat both times it faced in the regular season. Senior forward Ryan Frain scored two goals to lead the Owls to a 4-1 quarterfinal victory.
“We’re playing the best hockey that we’ve played all season,” Roberts said.
But Saturday’s matchup against second-seeded Penn State proved to be much more difficult.
The Nittany Lions took one-goal leads into both the second and third period before the Owls tied the score back up both times. Junior goalie Will Neifeld kept the Owls in it with 32 saves in regulation, and the game went into sudden death overtime.
After a tense period in which both goalies were forced to make multiple saves, the game was sent into a second sudden death period. Following another 19 minutes of back-and-forth action, senior forward George Rutter ended the suspense by netting the game winner with just nine seconds left in the period, sending the Owls to the finals.
“[Frain] made a great pass over to me,” Rutter said. “I just wanted to bring the goalie over to my side, and then just put it where he wasn’t.”
“I honestly just take [overtime] like it’s any other period,” Neifeld said. “The only difference is you get a little sluggish, you’re a little tired. But if your focus is there, you can block it out.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” Rutter added. “Obviously it’s nerve-wracking, but once you get out there playing, and your adrenaline kicks in, you really don’t think about it. It’s just about playing as hard as you can.”
The Owls met the top-seeded Retrievers in the final. After the Owls took a one-goal lead on a Frain breakaway in the first, the Retrievers scored consecutive goals and took the lead into the third period. Owls senior forward Steve Danno tied the game with 12 minutes left in the third, and the Owls yet again went into overtime.
In what proved to be an evenly matched fourth period, the Retrievers ended the tournament on a goal by sophomore forward Andrew Ojeda that gave the team the 3-2 victory and the MACHA title.
“It hurts a little bit,” Roberts said. “Even though we fell a little short, the bright side is what we’re looking at here is that we’re playing the best hockey that we’ve played all year.”
“I can’t stress it enough – it’s a team effort,” Neifeld said. “If we’re down we pick each other up. We win as a team and lose as a team.”
Now that their in-conference play is complete, the Owls carry the fifth-overall ranking in the ACHA Southeastern division into the regional playoffs this weekend at home at the Flyers Skate Zone. If the Owls win the regional tournament, it would earn them a trip to the National ACHA playoffs in San Jose, Calif., which would be another first in the program’s history.
“We have all the momentum that we need,” Roberts said. “We have not played this well at any point in the season. We really think we’re lining ourselves up for a trip to San Jose.”
Joseph Cranney can be reached at email@example.com.