When the ice hockey team takes the ice at Millersville in the season opener Sept. 15, it will do so without its star goalie of the previous two years.
Amid a 9-18 season last year that coach Jerry Roberts dubbed a “mess,” former Temple goalie Will Neifeld decided to call it quits after a decorated two-year stint with the team.
“There was a point last season where I didn’t see things going in the right direction, and I didn’t feel it was right for me to come back,” Neifeld said. “I felt like it was time to move on.”
After transferring from Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus prior to the 2010-11 season, Neifeld played a key role in Temple’s run to the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II National Tournament in his first season.
He also amassed numerous individual accolades throughout his two-year period with Temple, including the 2010-11 Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association Goalie of the Year award, the 2010-11 MACHA MVP award and a spot on the 2011-12 ACHA D-II Select Team.
Following Neifeld’s highlighted 2010-11 season that saw the Owls win 20 games and get a taste of the ACHA national tournament, the 2011-12 season proved to be a disappointing one.
Temple lost 11 of its first 12 contests en route to a 9-18 record and missed out on the ACHA Regionals for the first time in six seasons.
It was shortly after missing the regional tournament that relations with Neifeld and his coach began to go awry when Neifeld began missing practices and games during the final few weeks of the season.
Though Neifeld cited an illness for his absences, Roberts benched him for his last game at Temple in the team’s season-ending loss against Penn State on Feb. 18. Neifeld ultimately left the team for unrelated personal reasons.
Senior forward Sean Nealis explained the frustration that built up as the season went on.
“In any sport, if you aren’t winning games you get frustrated,” Nealis said. “It turns into offense blaming defense, defense blaming offense, players blaming coaches, and there’s a lot of frustration that builds up. I think that was part of it.”
In filling the void left by Neifeld this season, Roberts will likely rely on the duo of junior goalie Chris Mullen and sophomore goalie Eric Semborski.
Mullen backed up Neifeld in the previous two seasons, and will likely have the edge for the starting spot going into the preseason, Roberts said.
“Mullen has the edge because he’s older,” Roberts said. “He made strides last year and got a lot better, and he has some experience. But I think Semborski is going to fight for it like no one is expecting him to.”
After playing in a limited role for two seasons, Mullen is embracing the prospect of being in a starting role for the first time since he manned the net at Haverford High School.
“This is without a doubt the most excited I’ve been going into a season at Temple,” Mullen said. “Just from growing as a player the past two years and learning from [Neifeld], I’m definitely ready to go.”
“I’m excited and all of the above for this year to start,” Mullen added. “It’s a big one for me.”
Despite Mullen being the more experienced of the two goalies, Roberts said nothing is set in stone yet.
“In the past few seasons, we knew we had a definitive No. 1 goalie in net,” Roberts said. “This year there’s no clear cut No. 1 going in, and they’re both going to get a chance to prove themselves.”
With a position battle in net proving to be a major point of interest heading into the season, senior forward Kurt Noce said he has faith that either one of his teammates will come through.
“I’m really excited with having both of them really contribute to the team this year and for both of them to have the opportunity to get a lot more playing time then they’ve had,” Noce said. “[Mullen] has always been a really good goalie for us when he’s played, and I can definitely say that the whole team has all the confidence in the world in him if he’s the starter.”
“I’ve practiced with [Semborski] a few times this summer and he’s worked on his game a ton,” Noce added. “If there comes a point where he has a chance to step up, we all have confidence in him that he’ll step up.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @daparent93.