As fate would have it, Temple’s season ending largely mirrors that of a year ago.
After missing the American Collegiate Hockey Association D-II regional tournament with an 11th place finish for the second consecutive year, the Owls (17-13, 5-5 MACHA North) were again bounced from the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association conference tournament courtesy of division-rival Penn State, 3-1, in a quarterfinal matchup.
The Ice Lions (21-4-1, 9-0 MACHA North) ended Temple’s season in the semifinal round of the tournament last season, and have won seven of the previous eight regular season and playoff matchups dating back to the 2010-11 season.
Yet, this was no ordinary loss.
“This might’ve been our best game all season,” coach Jerry Roberts said. “It might seem weird saying that about a game that we lost, but even when the season ended [Friday], we all walked out with our heads held high.”
Despite Penn State’s unblemished MACHA North record of 9-0 during the regular season, the underdog Owls hung tough in a game they were simply not supposed to win, Roberts said.
“While Penn State beat us and they were the better team in the end, it was a far more competitive game than everyone in that building thought it was going to be,” Roberts said. “I haven’t seen the stat sheet yet, but I’m willing to bet that we even outshot them.”
Freshman forward Greg Malinowski netted the game’s first goal in the first period off a shorthanded breakaway to give Temple the early 1-0 lead.
The Ice Lions later bounced back with two quick goals in the final three minutes of the period to take a 2-1 lead into intermission.
It would be nearly 40 minutes until Penn State sealed it with a shot that sneaked past Mullen with less than a minute remaining on the clock to cap the game and Temple’s season in one stroke.
“The 2-1 lead carried into the second and again into the third. I think we had the better play in the backend of the game. We had a couple chances that we just barely missed on in the third period, and they just got the last goal with 45 seconds left to ice it.”
One of those chances fell onto the stick of senior forward Kurt Noce, who failed to bury the equalizer in a wide-open net with roughly a minute remaining.
The loss comes days after the Owls got wind that they will be missing out on the ACHA regional tournament for the second consecutive year after falling one point shy of a qualifying spot in the final regional rankings of the season.
Despite the season-ending loss, Roberts praised a Temple squad that gave arguably the MACHA’s top team a run for its money.
“We executed tonight,” Roberts said. “There were very few times this season we were actually able to walk out of the rink and think we played 60 minutes of hockey the right way and tonight was one of those nights.”
“In my opinion, Penn State is one of the top teams at our level in the country and partly in tonight’s game, we felt we were the better team,” Roberts said. “Not that we’re necessarily a better team than they are, but to be able to execute properly to 60 minutes the way we felt we could all season, showed we were capable of playing those big teams.”
Though the Owls learned they were left out of the regional tournament five days earlier, they still showed some fight in the midst of adversity, Roberts said.
“We were very critical of our players throughout the season of their unwillingness to fight through adversity at times and whenever things got tough they always seemed to not want to push through it,” Roberts said. “This week with not making regionals, there were a lot of convenient reasons to just quit, and pack up their toys and go home and the fact that they fought as hard as they did was something to be proud of tonight.”
“This was a really good game against a really good team,” Roberts added. “And I like to think if you were watching the game, it wasn’t that Penn State played poorly, it was that Temple stepped up today.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @daParent93.