Kneeling (L-R) Chuck Ruzick, Ken Glinka, Jay Murray, Rich Grochmal, Dan Morris, Roland DeFelice, Guy Davis.
Standing (L-R) Joe Burick, Harry Hart, Mike Ziemianski, Bob Matthews, Steve Moff, Eric Prack, Paul Patricoski, Ed Ricketts, Bernie Reese, John McQuillan, Rick Dell.
“Foundations for the Future”
1975 – 1976
“The Class of 1979 Arrives”
As the St. Vincent College Ice Hockey Club entered into year number seven, it had not only become established on the SVC campus, but had started to make a name for itself among the local high school and amateur programs in western Pennsylvania as well. In the fall of 1975, the team had its first great influx of seasoned local players, experienced internal conflict among factions of teammates, saw the retirement of coach Al Reinshagen, fought through a rash of injuries, and survived the defection of many teams from the WPIHA.
The fact that St. Vincent had a hockey team was now influencing enrollment. The start of the 1975-1976 school year had seven new faces become members of the Polar Bearcats. Ed Ricketts from Fox Chapel, Mike Ziemianski from Gateway, Bernie Reese from Pittsburgh North Catholic, Mark Higgins from Bethel Park, Don Rothrauff from General Braddock, Ned Nakles from Latrobe, Bob Matthews from Belle Vernon, and Steve Moff from Williamsport would all have significant roles to play on the team during the next four years on the ice. In addition, Jay Murray, also from Gateway, would play key roles in off ice administration and become the voice of the Polar Bearcats during home games.
These players, coupled with a solid core of returning veterans, created the potential for an outstanding season. Unfortunately events made the season less than what it could have been. During the summer months, many of the local college teams that participated in the WPIHA made decisions that almost destroyed the league. Pitt, CMU, and Duquesne felt that the league did not provide the competitive level of play that they were trying to achieve and hence left to play an independent schedule. Penn State Main Campus, in an attempt to create a league comprised of the state schools, robbed Slippery Rock, IUP, and Penn State McKeesport to play in a weekend games held at the Main Campus of Penn State University. That left St. Vincent and St. Francis as the only member schools still willing to make the WPIHA their primary focus. In an effort to save the league, Commissioner Jack McKinnon convinced IUP to play in both leagues. Then CCAC Boyce Campus, under the direction of Ray Weaver, faculty member, player, and coach, through together a group creating a 4’th team. Finally, former St. Vincent Director Mike Kaleina, organized a group of local Greensburg players under the banner of Westmoreland County Community College. The “Lumberjacks” also featured former SVC players Vince Kadlubek, Bob Farrell, and Andy Labrasca.
As these events took place, off ice affairs took several turns. Danny Morris, team Captain and Director, had taken on more and more responsibility to run the team. Ice time costs from 1969 through 1975 had risen from $25/hour to $45/hour at the team’s home rink, Kirk S. Nevin, in Greensburg. To assist the team, Dan, a member of the student Senate was able to obtain an allocation from Student Government to support the sport as a recognized student sponsored activity. From previous years, the Dave Vance and Dan Morris rivalry had become heated not only on the ice, but off as well. With the schedule completed, funding in place, and most of the administrative matters of the team arranged for the season, Dan resigned as the Director and turned over control of the team to Dave. Unfortunately, several team members felt that having only one person in charge centered too much power in one place. Seeking a balance, at a special meeting, the team voted Paul Patricoski and Joe Burick as Co-Directors, a policy that set a lasting precedent in the off ice management of the team.
On ice, to compensate for a watered down league, Dan Morris scheduled several exhibition games to bolster the team’s season. In spite of a solid senior class, several other veterans, and a talented freshman class, the season was marred by dissapointment. Injuries took a major toll on the green and Gold. Mark Higgins in his first game fractured his pelvis. At various times Mike Ziemianski, Dave Vance, Jack Hutchinson, and Danny Morris had broken collarbones. Several times during the year, key players missed games due to concussions and sprains.
Even though St. Vincent took second place in actual league play, it was decided that no playoff would take place in the 1975-1976 campaign and first place IUP was “awarded” the championship in spite of protests by St. Vincent at the final league meeting before the end of the season. Al Reinshagen, who announced that the year would be his last behind the bench, would not have a chance to take a healthy St. Vincent team into a championship game and those players who had finished their four year career, Dan Morris, Dave Donatelli, Dave Vance, Denny Brunetta, Ken Glinka, Rich Grochmal, Chuck Ruzick, would leave without the chance to play one more game.
It should also be noted that for the first time in the team’s history, one of its players received a major recognition award from the college. Danny Morris, SVC Polar Bearcat Team Captain was nominated for and selected to receive one of the St. Vincent’s highest student honors, The President’s Award.
With such a huge number of players leaving the team, big question marks were left in place for 1976-1977. The team would find a way to respond in one of the best season in the history of St. Vincent College Ice Hockey.