A 29-game hockey season spanning across roughly five months is bound to produce the occasional surprise.
For Temple (16-11), the 2012-13 season has been defined by them.
“The one thing I found in four years of coaching is what you think you are in September is not what you’re going to be in January,” coach Jerry Roberts said.
The scoring on Roberts’ team is boosted from an influx of youth.
Freshmen forwards Cody Vassa and Greg Malinowski, along with first-year sophomore Dave Brewer, have pulled much of the team’s scoring weight thus far. All are among Temple’s Top 5 scorers.
Vassa has been a revelation for Roberts’ squad, leading the team in scoring with 33 points – 15 goals, 18 assists – through 23 games.
“Vassa is probably the smartest hockey player I’ve ever come across at this level,” Roberts said. “The things he thinks of on the ice and the plays that he reads and decisions he makes are second to no one on this team. He’s one of the best players in the [Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association].”
“It’s come as a shock,” Vassa said of his breakout season. “I’m just playing my game I guess and it’s been going well. I haven’t really changed anything [about my game] and it’s just been clicking. The team has helped me a lot, too. Whenever something has been wrong, they’ve always helped me out.”
Brewer, with 19 points, and Malinowski, with 17 points, are fourth and sixth in scoring, respectively.
Though freshman Jayson Marbach was ruled academically ineligible for the spring semester, he would currently sit in third on the team in scoring with 21 points through 20 games.
During the later half of the fall semester, Vassa and Malinowski were regularly featured on a forward line with senior and captain Jordan Lawrence.
“[Lawrence] helped me out the most out of anyone,” Malinowski said. “I played with him for a while and he was helping out a lot. He usually played defense but Jerry put him on offense with me and [Vassa]. He’s a senior and the captain, and the idea was that he could really mentor two freshmen. When he joined my line, I was getting at least two points per game at one point.”
“Malinowski is every bit [as good] we thought he was going to be,” Roberts said. “He doesn’t have as many points that we thought he was going to have at this point, but he’s played really well with the guys around him. The people around him have had success, and he’s one of the driving reasons as to why.”
With Malinowski, Roberts knew his team was getting a player with size and a hard shot. He did not know his team was about to get senior level leadership from the freshman.
“He’s terrific in the locker room,” Roberts said. “He’s always there to lighten the mood and when it’s go time. He’s mature enough to realize it and he provides some leadership to the team.”
“Vassa and Brewer are both quiet, and Malinowski is quiet for the first five seconds he knows you and then he can’t stop talking,” Roberts added. “He’s one of the funniest guys I’ve ever seen in a locker room, but he knows when it’s time to get serious.”
After spending the first semester of the 2010-11 season with an American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I team at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Brewer transferred to Temple after taking off from school for more than a year.
“I knew being a transfer and being among the younger kids, there would be a lot of older guys with seniority ahead of me,” Brewer said. “I didn’t expect to get this much playing time, but I’ve worked hard and I’ve earned it.”
Another unsung hero of this Temple team, Brewer has made a name for himself due to his knack for scoring when it matters.
Now a sophomore, Brewer has notched game-winning shootout goals in bouts with Lehigh on Sep. 23 and Liberty on Nov. 9. He has also had his fair share of big goals in the third period, Roberts said.
“He has a knack for scoring really significant goals,” Roberts said. “He had the shootout winners at Lehigh and Liberty, and he’s had other clutch goals throughout the season as well. It’s almost like he doesn’t have any nerves in those situations.”
A Temple player for five years and the coach for four, Roberts stated that he has never seen such a freshman class in his decade-long tenure around the team.
“As far as freshmen or new players are concerned, we haven’t had anything close to this,” Roberts said. “When we go up and down our roster, so far this year three of the best players on the team [Vassa, Malinowski and Brewer] are these new guys. That’s very rare when you can say that. The fact that three of those guys are [young] with several years to go until graduation is a huge benefit that we have.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @daParent93.