“Rebuilt and Retooled”
“Kaleina Cup Winners”
There was no doubt that St. Vincent would have to undergo some major changes to remain one of the top contenders in College Hockey East after losing what would be for most schools be an entire team. Seven players graduated and another four transferred from the back-to-back National Tournament appearances of the previous two seasons. Gone was all time leading scorer Tom Ward and four-year starters Ryan Silvis, Brad Lloyd, and Rick Myers. Transfers Ryan Adams, Andy Modecki and Jason Ruehl collected their degrees and Cory Bruzda accepted his pharmacy transfer option to Duquesne University. Chantal Ziemianski moved on to work on a nursing degree, Cory Tucek ended up an all-star for CCAC, and AJ Jamiolkowski also did not return for the 2005-2006 campaign. These players were all part of a team that was able to outshoot and outscore its opponents by margins of 1,026 to 686 and 186 to 96 respectively. It was doubtful that the team would be able to use any single player to replace the massive 97 offensive points generated by Tom Ward, but an outstanding incoming crop of freshman came close.
It was fortunate that in spite of these losses, there was always the ever-present nucleus of returning talent. Matt Ward always gave the team an instant advantage with his ability to score and carry the puck. Jordan Miller approached the game with new enthusiasm and Craig Dolan was ready to assume a greater leadership role. Chris McDonald had proven himself as a solid two-way player with an underrated scoring touch. Drew Mateya could always kill penalties and cycle the puck. Brandon Skoogland decided not to transfer to Penn State and Chris Craft was back for another round. Three seniors, Captain TJ Drake, Jeff Stine, and Mike Speagle along with the always smart and steady Jason Seidling anchored the defense. The team also had two returning goalies in Bucky Holt and Joe Ring. But it was still short on depth.
To compensate for the large number of players leaving the team, Coach Ziemianski went on an extensive recruiting campaign during the winter and spring of 2005. The efforts were well rewarded by an extremely deep class of talented players, a group that would keep the St. Vincent Ice Hockey team as once again, one of the top scoring teams in the country.
New offensive firepower and toughness was added in the likes of smooth skating hard shooting Joe Manning and Phil Ivkovich with his incredible work ethic, both from perennial state high school contender Serra Catholic. Matt Ball from Wheeling Central Catholic brought a dogged goal scoring persistence. Two Plum standouts included Dave Glunt who converted from a defenseman into a top scoring center and Dave D’Incau whose incredible skating ability permitted him to dart in and out of opposing team’s players. Not to be outdone, Gateway high school supplied their previous season’s leading scorer, Matt Rose, and a solid defenseman with very underrated offensive skills, Matt Domyancic. Adam Petrovich from Fox Chapel provided two-way play and more scoring. Sean Kasonovich and Mike Cochrane, both form the Mt. Lebanon Amateur Association, added even more blue line and scoring depth and more surprises developed with the transfer of Tony Duco, another former Serra player, from Virginia Tech, and the play of Matt Miller from the Pittsburgh Aviators, Neil Quinn from New York, and Bob Diebec, a sophomore already at SVC, all defenseman.
St. Vincent came out the gates flying. In an away tune up game against Frostburg State, Joe Manning took an opening face off feed and scored the first of 18 St. Vincent goals with less than 5 seconds gone in the period. It was not more than a few minutes later when all the green and gold needed was a short handed break-a-way winner from Phil Ivkovich to send the FSU homecoming weekend fans to the exit. Allegheny College proved not much more of a challenge. Although playing SVC tight to a 0-0 score late into the first period, two late goals in the opening frame coupled with 8 more in the second and 4 unanswered 3’rd period tallies resulted in a 14-0 shutout. Case did not fare much better, but SVC was soon to face its first real challenge of the season, the always-tough Loyola College of Maryland.
In spite of out possessing and out-shooting Loyola for most of the first period, SVC found itself down 2-0. But Loyola made the mistake of taking penalties in the second period. SVC’s powerful offense exploded for 5 goals in less than 7 minutes, including a hat trick by Adam Petrovich and eventually walked off with a 5-4 win. Shippensburg fared far worse the next day as SVC out shot a capable team by a margin of 74 to 10 and a final of 10-1. The team was rolling four lines and nothing seemed to get in the way.
Pitt and CMU were the next two victims, although Coach Ziemianski felt the team was not playing to potential. He uncharacteristically smashed his coach’s clipboard to pieces on the floor of the locker room against Pitt. In spite of holding a 64-15 advantage in shots could only score 8 times and give up a sloppy three goals against. CMU, who had fallen on hard times the last few seasons was completely outclassed, but although out shot 70 to 16 and giving up 24 goals, they still managed to put 6 behind the SVC goalies.
The worry proved prophetic. The next opponent was Cal U on their home ice. Unknown to the coaching staff, the players purchased all black 3’rd uniforms and wore them as an intimidation factor against the Vulcans. Unfortunately the jerseys did not work. Even though a 29 to 11 shot advantage was held after two periods, SVC trailed by a 3-2 margin. Cal widened it to 5-2 before Brandon Skoogland notched a late power play goal to close the gap to 5-3.
The loss hurt SVC in the standings while UPJ was running an undefeated string and Cal bringing up the next best record in College Hockey East. Hofstra came to town the following weekend to play both SVC and UPJ. Never having seen each other before the game was one of the more exciting contests of the year. Hofstra was looking a win having dropped a close match to the Ice Cats of Johnstown the previous day, but St. Vincent was ready. A tentative first period had the visitors up by a 1-0 margin although they were out-shot 13-8. Bucky Holt made some strong saves early, but Hofstra itself had outstanding net minders. Gradually however, SVC’s depth started to take its toll. The Polar bearcats out shot the visitors 21-7 in the second period and held a 2-1 lead entering the third period. Soon the frustration of the visitors became apparent when their leading scorer was ejected for fighting St. Vincent’s pugilistic Dave D’Incau and the Green and Gold ended with a 5-2 victory.
After an easy “W” over Edinboro, the big showdown came with UPJ who put their then undefeated recorded and top defensive team against the high scoring St. Vincent. The first period was a chess match that ended in a 1-1 draw. UPJ’s dump and hit game through off the SVC blue liners. Several give-a-ways and a few soft goals were too much to come back from and the team had a hard to accept 6-3 loss.
It was hoped that an expected big win against Penn State Altoona would help get the team back on track with two games coming up against perennial league powerhouse IUP and a much improved Penn State Behrend group. Sloppy uncoordinated play cost the Polarbearcats dearly against IUP. Even with all its firepower and skill, it could not amount sustained attacks and normally persistent scorers continually pucks into the mid-section of the IUP goalie. Equally devastating was the next loss to Penn State Behrend. SVC had a decided talent advantage against the Erie squad. 1:1 there was no way PSB should have been in the match. But the Blue and White gave a tremendous team effort. They out skated and out hustled St. Vincent the entire contest. In an emotional roller coaster, SVC scored late in the game with a pulled goalie to knot the contest at 4. But then in overtime, Behrend found a way to get the puck deep in the zone and force a goal behind Buck Holt in a scramble around the net. SVC’s hopes for a third consecutive National Tournament bid, and perhaps even a 5’th consecutive CHE playoff spot were slipping away.
The start of the second semester brought a new sense of urgency to the team. The only way a trip Florida and the National Tournament could be obtained was to win out. It started with a surprisingly tough CCAC squad and would be followed by #1 ranked and undefeated UPJ. It was at this time that another coach was added to the SVC stables. Joe Dykta, a USA Hockey Master Level Coach, joined the club after several outstanding seasons at the helm of Greensburg Central Catholic and years of amateur coaching experience with the Westmoreland Amateur Hockey Association.
As a result of Penn State West being unable to field a team for the first time in more than 30 years, CCAC was elevated to fulltime CHE status. With an open admission policy, CCAC was able to bring together a strong group of very talented offensive minded players and surprised some teams in the first semester, including IUP. Unfortunately, due to some off ice player issues and a coaching change for rule violations, it was not known what kind of squad would hit the ice against SVC. CCAC did prove to be tougher than expected. But after the back-to-back meetings, St. Vincent recorded two victories by scores of 8-5 and 8-3.
Then it was the rematch everyone in CHE was waiting for. UPJ had gone undefeated up to this point in the season and there was speculation that no one in CHE could touch them. They had some of the strongest goaltending in the league, a defense built around all star Dan Zabkar from Bethel Park, a potent first line, and a group of hard hitting in your face forwards. St. Vincent was ready. A game plan based on dumping the puck away from Zabkar and immediately pressuring the zone while sealing the boards worked to perfection. The Pitt Johnstown Ice Cats were unable to handle the attack and SVC Lead 1-0. As a result of penalties and Coach Boyd of UPJ shortening his bench, UPJ made a game of it in the second period. But The St. Vincent penalty killers along with strong goaltending from Bucky Holt and converting on every reasonable scoring opportunity set back UPJ even further as the Polar Bearcats carried a 4-1 lead into the locker room. The short bench approach backfired in the third. UPJ could not keep up. In spite of a few flurries of activity, St. Vincent handed the #1 ranked UPJ team a decided 8 to 2 loss. The team had finally made its statement.
Then in an away game against DII Bucknell the Green and Gold carried away another 4-1 win in a game that was never as close as the score would seem to indicate. But the season was winding down and huge contests against Cal and Robert Morris remained. Only by winning both games could SVC still hope for a National Tournament bid.
The first opponent in the series was Cal. It proved to be a classic match. Going into the third period both teams were deadlocked at 4 goals each and it could barely be said that SVC held any real shot advantage at 22 to 19. But gradually the SVC depth began to take control. At first a seesaw affair with neither team wanting to make a mistake, St. Vincent gradually began to tilt the ice. Going up 5-4 with time winding down, Cal staged a comeback to deadlock the score at 5. Then with little more than a minute remaining, Joe Manning slid in the game winner to raise the Green and Gold to an exciting 6-5 win. A CHE playoff spot was now a sure thing, but what about Nationals? Next up, the RMU Colonials.
Although a win would not guarantee either team a National bid, a loss would certainly put the other out of contention. SVC caught some breaks early when Dave Glunt scored from his own end as the RMU goalie misplayed a puck on a potential icing. Another soft goal later in the game positioned SVC well going into the third period with a 4-2 advantage. But then disaster struck. In spite of out playing and shooting RMU for most of the game and especially in the third period, St. Vincent gave up a heartbreaking 4 goals in the third while only scoring once, dropping a horrible 6-5 decision in spite of a 38 to 23 advantage in shots. No Nationals for 2006.
But there were still the CHE playoffs at hand. St Vincent had never one the CHE playoff format and had never appeared in the finals. As luck would have it Cal was the scheduled first opponent; the third meeting of the two squads in the season. As with the second game, both the Vulcans and the Polar Bearcats played a timid first period with Cal taking a slight edge in shots at 10-8 but with St. Vincent getting the only goal. In a crazy second period, St, Vincent dominated play with a 17-7 shot advantage but yet found itself down by a 2-1 margin. Then in a do or die third period Matt Ward and Matt Ball took charge and pumped in three unanswered goals for a 4-2 victory. SVC was going to the semi-finals against UPJ.
After the loss to St. Vincent, UPJ fell on hard times. It dropped several more games and was clearly not the same team it had been during the first semester. Still, it had scoring threats in Moliterno and Morgel and Zabkar on the defense, had a goalie with one of the best save percentages in the league and was the reigning CHE champion. In a surprise move however, UPJ started their back up goaltender and moved the teams highest scoring forward, Moliterno back on defense. The moves proved fatal. SVC scored on its first two shots of the game, each time with Moliterno on defense, and never looked back. Once obtaining a comfortable lead, it trapped and dumped the puck against the Icecats who had already obtained a bid to the National Tournament. But the statement was made. SVC won 7-3 and had outscored UPJ by a 15-5 margin in its last two meetings. For the first time in its history St. Vincent was going to the CHE finals against IUP.
In the first best of 3 series against IUP, St. Vincent came out flat. Passes were missed in the neutral zone, shots from the perimeter went in and the defense could not coordinate with the forwards in clearing the puck from the zone. In an unusual position, St. Vincent was being out shot 29 to 18 and found itself down on the scoreboard by a 5-1 count. To make a statement for the next game the team significantly improved its play in the final period and played IUP to a 2-2 draw while gaining a marginal shot advantage of 14-10.
The opening period of the next game was a different story. The SVC attack was back as the players buzzed through and around the IUP defense taking a 16-9 edge in shots and a 1-0 lead into the locker room. Unfortunately, the rest of the game was controlled by IUP. Trying to come back from a 4-2 deficit, St. Vincent pulled goalie Buck Holt for an extra attacker and Craig Dolan drew the game to within one. But no more pucks would cross the line for the Polar Bearcats and the team ended its first ever CHE championship series in defeat.
Most teams would have considered the type of season that SVC had to be an outstanding success; another trip to the CHE playoffs, a birth in the finals, a National Ranking and contention for a spot in the National ACHA D III National Tournament. Unfortunately the great success of the program and the expectations of the players and the coaching staff was not met. Still however, with a great freshman class the team maintained its wide-open offensive style. By having more depth than any other team in the league, it nearly matched its previous season’s mark by scoring 183 times, only 6 less than the previous year and once again had a huge shot advantage of 1,014 to 534. The final mark: a record of 17-7-0.
For notable highlights, Drew Mateya recorded his second career hat trick. Matt Ward again reinforced himself as one of the dominant players in the league by finishing second in the scoring race in CHE. No one could ever forget the “blind man walking” goal celebration of Dave Glunt against IUP in the finals. Bucky Holt set an SVC record by becoming the first ever netminder to play more than 1,000 minutes in a season with 1,034. Chris Craft popped in a goal against CMU and dressed as the team’s back up goalie for the CHE playoffs. When SVC needed a second goalie for a late season scrimmage, Bethel Park JV goalie and team mascot Adam “Chunk” Ziemianski took the pipes. Jordan Miller’s best memory was crushing a shot by him from the deep slot during the scrimmage. Joe Manning scored some of the sickest goals on film and Matt Ball was automatic when driving to the net. Craig Dolan finished second on the team with 26 assists. And no one could ever forget the reckless abandon of Phil Ivkovich as he routinely through his body in front of shots when killing penalties. Michael Cochrane missed most of the season with a freak high ankle sprain, and Sean Kasonovich picked up more playing time by also getting in another year of amateurs. Josh Kearns scored in his first game against Allegheny and had an on ice reunion with his brother who played for IUP. And not to be outdone, Mike Speagle had no problems clearing the bench with his gastronomical regurgitations.
The team recognized its players with all-star game appearances by Matt Ward, Jordan Miller, T.J. Drake and Jeff Stine. Craig Dolan, who was named as an alternate snuck on the bench and took some shifts. He was hoping to go unnoticed, but as luck would have it, was called for a penalty on one of his shifts. All in good fun though, no damage was done.
Personal awards were given to seniors Mike Speagle, T.J. Drake, Jeff Stine, Drew Mateya and Chris Craft. Recognition as The William Vance MVP was went to Matt Ward while Craig Dolan was selected for the Andy Vahaly Team Spirit trophy, the two oldest named trophies given by the team. Freshman Matt Ball won a very close vote as the Fr. Herman Ubinger Unsung Hero Award and team c captain T.J. Drake received the Al Reinshagen Award for Excellent Play and Team Bearing. The final trophy for most improved player went to Tony Duco who started the year as a 5’th line forward and ended as one of the top 6 defenseman of the squad, often paired with Drake against some of the leagues tougher lines. Team Captain for the season was T.J. Drake, while Jeff Stine, Matt Ward, and Craig Dolan wore A’s as Assistant Captains.
And no one will ever forget the SVC TV commentary of Tom Ward and Tim Holowaty in the IUP championship series. A must for every historian of SVC hockey!