The Temple News takes a look back at the past 70 years of Temple’s ice hockey team.
Jerry Roberts is a Temple man to the “T.” He attended Temple from 2002-2006, played on the Temple ice hockey team from 2002-2007, was a Temple employee and currently coaches the ice hockey team.
Temple has provided Roberts with an education, a profession and, like so many other young men before him, an opportunity to continue to be involved in his life’s passion of ice hockey.
“Being a part of this club as players was the greatest experience of our lives, and we can never pay back all of the people who helped us along the way,” Roberts said. “The only thing we can do is ensure that current and future players at Temple have the same experiences we had.”
Over the past 70 years, ice hockey at Temple has seen more than a thousand players. Since the team’s inception, players have had to provide their own equipment, pay team dues to cover uniforms and transportation and deal with a lack of a close-to-campus home ice rink.
Despite having to be self-sufficient, it is a commonality for all members of the ice hockey team, which has proven the experience can be rewarding, exciting and life-altering.
“Temple ice hockey provided me with the best five years of my life,” Roberts said. “The experiences, combined with the guidance from the administrative personnel at Temple, helped mold me into the person that I am today.”
The ice hockey program began in 1940 with the creation of the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Hockey League. At the time, Temple made no appropriations of funds for the team, which began the long history of fundraising for the team.
The 1941 team was coached by the boy’s freshman football coach Chet Messervey. The team was made up mostly of football players and was forced to practice at 6:15 a.m. because the only available ice rink, the Philadelphia Gardens rink, was open to the public during the day.
Although there has been a significant change in the background of the players since the team’s birth, the idea of being cost-effective and searching for “ice time” is something all Temple ice hockey players can relate to.
“To say that we were behind the eight ball was putting it mildly,” said former player and Temple league representative John Vaccarelli, who played from 1982-1984. “We didn’t have a coach until maybe the second or third game of the season.
“The lines were set and the backup goalie was responsible for making the line changes,” Vaccarelli added. “Temple could have made it better with an influx of cash. It would have life a lot easier for us in regard to the running of the team. Hockey is expensive.”
“The team was well organized within the structure of a club sport at that time,” said former player Chris Powala, who played with Vaccarelli. “What could have been done to make my playing experience better was eventually done, and that was the creation of the [American Collegiate Hockey Association] with a governance with minimum team criteria for membership at various levels/divisions.”
The ACHA was created seven years after Powala and Vaccarelli graduated to provide organizational structure to club teams that aren’t officially sanctioned by the NCAA.
“There are only 100 NCAA ice hockey teams [From Division I – Division III],” Roberts said. “ACHA came into existence in 1990 in order to provide an opportunity for players outside of that elite group to play competitive ice hockey while in college.”
After entering the ACHA, the team experienced some hardship that led to it going dormant for a few years.
In 1993, club teams followed the same funding model as it does today with Campus Recreation paying one-third of the team’s cost, and the team covered the other two-thirds. At the time, the team’s treasurer, president and coach were co-signers of a local bank account that held all the team’s funds.
Director of Campus Recreation Steve Young, who had been working with Temple club sports since 1984 and assumed his current job in 1990, said the team had always been in good standing.
Before each season, Young and the team would meet to discuss what costs would be covered by Campus Rec. and the team. One such topic was ice time at the Class of 1923 Arena located on Penn’s main campus that had served as Temple’s home arena. Campus Rec. agreed to pay for ice time for the first half of the year, and the team would pay for the second half.
When it came time for the second-half payments to be made, Young started receiving calls from officials at the 1923 Arena asking where the payment was.
Around the same time, the team’s head coach left the team in the middle of the season to go participate in Operation Desert Storm. He had only been with the team for two-and-a-half seasons.
Young and the team soon learned the coach had bolted with all of the team’s money.
“He left the kids hanging,” Young said. “It was shocking that he took the money, and that he up and left coaching. People were just getting over the idea that their coach left.”
Young reported the incident to Temple’s financial affairs, which decided not to recoup the team’s losses because the money was not a part of university funds. There wasn’t much they could do to the former coach who was not a university employee and left no contact information behind.
The team would finish the 1993-1994 season with Campus Rec. covering the rest of the costs. The following year, Campus Rec. decided the team could stay together as an organization but would be suspended from playing games until the team could pay back its debts.
“Most of the club members were so frustrated and so angry that they gave up and the club folded for four years,” Young said. “The reason the club took a hit for it was because the treasurer and officers have to have that responsibility of knowing what’s going on with their club.”
“Our feeling was that they had a core group that was irresponsible for not keeping a closer eye on things,” Young added.
The team returned for the 1996-1997 season after all of the players involved in the 1993 incident had moved on from Temple, but 1993 would still impact the team.
The club’s relationship with the 1923 Arena soured to the point where the team searched elsewhere for a new home arena.
Through a connection a student had, the team would play its home games in Pennsauken, N.J., until 2002 when the Flyers Northeast Skatezone opened, and the team became its first tenant. The team still plays there and receives priority for ice time.
The stolen funds affected how all club teams’ budgets are currently managed. Now, every monetary decision a club team makes must be co-signed by Campus Rec.
“We’re tightly involved, and the treasurer doesn’t work with a coach or a president. They work with our full-time personnel just so such a thing doesn’t happen again,” Young said.
Today, all players pay team dues that cover transportation and uniforms, but players are responsible for their own with equipment. Players carpool to some away games, but if the destination is more than an hour away, Roberts requires the team to take a bus.
The team receives $20,300 from Campus Rec. and collects a total of $47,600 in player dues at a rate of $1,700 per player. They also raise a few thousand dollars through fundraising. Whatever Campus Rec. does not pay for, the players and coaches are responsible for coming up with the rest.
This is the current model for funding for all club sports.
“We would not exist without the support and efforts of Sarah Newton [the sports club coordinator], Steve Young and the rest of [Campus Recreation],” Roberts said. “They do far more for us than most other schools do for their club hockey teams.”
Even given the support the ice hockey team receives from Temple, most of the organizational work is done by the players.
“On the ice we were well-organized, and off the ice we were self-organized,” former player Craig Ungaro, who played with Roberts, said. “Although we received a great deal of support from our club [representative], the success or direction of the club was left up to the members and players.”
“In my opinion, nothing could have been done to make it better,” Roberts added. “We did the most we could with the resources we had available to us.”
The storied history of Temple ice hockey team has inadvertently created a sense of bonding among the players in which brotherhood trumps adversity. As a result, the Temple Ice Hockey Alumni Association is currently in its groundwork.
“We have decided to tackle the alumni association slowly,” Roberts said. “We all keep in touch and get together once a year but have never established a formal organization. This year, we’re sending them occasional e-mails, inviting them to games [and] hosting the occasional reunion. Next year, we’re going to try to set something up with a little more structure.”
Although life as a Temple ice hockey player may seem challenging, the ice hockey team has provided opportunities for more than a thousand students who, if nothing more, want to continue doing what they love for as long as possible.
“At the time, the tradeoff was the opportunity to continue playing a sport we loved at a collegiate level,” Ungaro said. “In addition to the on-ice benefit, off the ice, we were creating life-long friendships, and we share a fraternity-like bond that couldn’t be duplicated.”
Joseph Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian Dzenis contributed to this article.