When Temple takes the ice at Millersville University for the season opener on Saturday, Sept. 15, it will mark the beginning of what the Owls hope will be a long journey back to the national stage.
After a memorable 2010–11 season that featured the first appearance in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II National Tournament in the program’s history, the 2011-12 season was one that the team would like to forget.
“Our mindset going into Millersville is redemption,” coach Jerry Roberts said. “We’re so eager to get out and prove that last year was a fluke. It doesn’t matter who we play in that first game, whether it’s a big rival or a team we rarely play, guys are going to come out with everything they have.”
In the 2011–12 season that included an 11-game losing streak and ended with a 9–18 record, Temple missed the regional tournament for the first time in six seasons.
“Everybody makes regionals and we didn’t,” senior defenseman Matt Benedetto said. “We didn’t expect that to happen.”
A team stocked with returning players from 2010–11, Temple was quickly marred by injuries, a challenging schedule and tough luck last year.
After losing a top defenseman in current fifth-year senior Andrew Trainor to a broken clavicle and separated shoulder in a loss to Florida Gulf Coast University in the second game of the season, the Owls lost the next 10 contests that followed.
“Injuries killed us last year,” Roberts said. “When we think and talk about what went wrong last year, we can talk about the losing streak and things like that, but we forget about all the guys we lost.”
“Losing Trainor was tough,” senior forward Chris Johnson said. “He’s a big asset. And after losing 11 straight, everyone’s morale was really bad. We came back second semester and met as a team and talked about how we were going to make sure we didn’t lose any more games. It was good to talk it out.”
After its 11-game losing streak, Temple played out the season at an even 8–8 record, which included a playoff win in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association against Delaware.
After a six-month offseason, the returning group will get another shot when the puck drops at Millersville.
“We have a lot more depth than we did last year,” Roberts said. “You either need high-end talent up front or you need a deep team. Only a few teams have the type of top talent that can carry a team. To be a successful team you have to have a lot of depth and we feel we have it this year.”
The health of junior forward Chris Brennan will be crucial to keeping the team deep this season, Roberts said.
“We’re most excited to see an entire season out of [Brennan],” Roberts said. “He went down with a pretty bad concussion in a game against Siena last year, and that knocked him out for a while.”
“He was one of the most impressive players who showed up in tryouts last year, and he’s one of the best passers and playmakers we have,” Roberts added. “I don’t think he’s thought of a whole lot this season because he missed so much time last year. I think he can have a big year.”
Offensively, the Owls will rely on the scoring of senior forward Sean Nealis, whose breakout season was one of the few highlights of last year’s campaign. The likes of senior forward Joe Pisko, Johnson and freshman Jason Marbaich will also be looked upon for putting the puck in the back of the net, Roberts said.
“We’d love to see a big year from [Pisko] this year,” Roberts said. “From a raw talent standpoint, he is one of the most talented players that we have. We have to find him the right group of people to find what his skill set is.”
“He’s a finisher,” Roberts added. “They are guys that some people might criticize them for not doing this and that, but they put the puck in the back of the net. You need guys like that.”
The defensive core boasts an experienced group with seniors Trainor, Benedetto and Jordan Lawrence leading the way. Junior Dan Redante made the team in open tryouts with junior hockey experience to his credit.
“We had the same amount of defensemen tryout as we had forwards,” Roberts said. “That’s pretty rare. We have a lot of defensemen this year and they’re all talented, including all of the freshmen.”
Roberts named junior goalie Chris Mullen as the starter in net following the departure of former goalie Will Neifeld from the team. Sophomore Eric Semborski and freshman Jon Plester will fight for reps on the bench.
“It’s [Mullen’s] net until he gives it to somebody,” Roberts said. “He’ll control his own destiny. Other guys will get their chances, but the big games belong to Mullen and it’s up to him to keep that spot.”
For a team loaded with seniors, the Owls said the ultimate goal this time around is getting back to the national stage.
“On a team level, the goal is to get to nationals,” Lawrence said. “My goal is whatever the team’s goal is. Personally, I want to go out in style. We got there two years ago and it was an awesome experience, and it would mean a lot to get back there again.”
For veterans such as Benedetto, this year’s campaign gives the Owls something to prove.
“A lot of teams think that our run to nationals was a fluke,” Benedetto said. “We’re trying to prove to ourselves that we can do it. It’s a double-edged sword.”
“We care to the point where we want to show that we aren’t the team from last year.” Benedetto added. “We’re a different team now and we’re not going to let teams dictate how we feel we’re performing. That’s up to us.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @daparent93.