Eric Semborski had never been there before.
The goalie had started on the Wilkes-Barre travel team and the Empire Junior Hockey League’s Jersey Wildcats before coming to Temple in 2011.
Not since the first weekend of the Wilkes-Barre season had he been a backup.
When he joined Temple’s ice hockey club in 2011, he was stuck as the No. 3 goalie behind Chris Mullen and starter Will Neifeld.
It was certainly not the role Semborski envisioned when he grew up modeling himself after former NHL goalie John Vanbiesbrouck.
“I did not handle the backup role well at all,” Semborski said. “It’s a different animal when you have to come off the bench. You are cold and you haven’t warmed up in nearly an hour and you have to be mentally tough.”
Opportunity appeared to come at the end of the 2011-12 season when Neifeld abruptly left the team before the last weekend of the playoffs in the Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association.
The battle for the No. 1 spot ended on Sept. 30, 2012 when Mullen held Penn State to four goals amid a myriad of Nittany Lion shots and effectively sealed the team’s top spot in net. Coach Ryan Frain said Mullen’s seniority had already put him ahead of Semborski, but skill gave Mullen the edge.
“Basically, ever since Eric has gotten here he has been in a constant fight with other goaltenders of ours and he has been kind of stuck with the backup role for the better part of three seasons,” Frain said.
While Mullen secured the starting spot two seasons ago, Semborski said it did not sour the relationship between the two goaltenders.
“Mullen was good guy. I respected [him] a lot and [he was] a great teammate,” Semborski said. “He would help me when I was struggling with hockey or whatever and I think I learned a lot from him by just watching him practice and watching him play.”
It was not a complete loss for Semborski because he said while his minutes were few, some were also critical.
Former head coach Jerry Roberts recalled the first game in which Semborski saw action during a first-round playoff game against the University of Delaware. Neifeld was injured prior to the game, and Mullen went down mid-contest. This put Semborski in the third period where he helped the team snag the win, despite his minimal ice time that season.
Semborski was called on again in his sophomore year when Mullen had been suspended for three games for his part in a benches-clearing brawl in a game against Rowan University in October 2012.
“Every time we called his number, he rose to the occasion and did what we needed him to do,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he first saw Semborski’s ability when he went on a recruiting trip to one of Semborski’s games in the juniors. A goalie was not a current need, but Semborski’s showing drew Roberts’ interest.
“He was very disciplined in terms of technique,” Roberts said. “He wasn’t your typical goalie who started playing goalie at the age of five. When you’re older you are able to adhere to what you have been taught a little more and as a result his fundamentals, prior to coming to Temple, were very sound and that was something that attracted us to him.”
Semborski’s start in hockey did not take off until he was 15 years old because of the lack of rinks and local teams in his hometown of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.
Semborski’s experiences as a backup led him to the starting role on this year’s team.
Forward Chris Carnivale has been teammates with Semborski since 2011, and said he’s noticed the netminder’s work ethic.
“He is very committed,” Carnivale said. “You especially saw it this offseason when he knew he was expected to be the number one guy. He really worked hard for it.”
“I want to play every game,” Semborski said. “I always have since I started playing, but when [Mullen] got that role it just made me dig deeper and work harder. Each time I step on the ice I want to get better. When you’re not that guy, you have to work your a– off and become that guy.”
Stephen Godwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @StephenGodwinJr