On Ice Doug Seib.
Kneeling (L-R) Mike Ziemianski, John Konfala, Mark O’Brien.
Standing (L-R) Dave Bogonovich, Dave Wagner, Jay Murray.
“Memories of a Division Title”
1978 – 1979
“The Alumni Return”
1978-1979 became a year of great memories for the Polar Bearcat Ice Hockey Team. The talent filled class of 1979 were seniors. Mark Higgins was back and Don Rothrauff decided to play a full season. Dave Wagner and John Trovato developed into solid players. Mark O’Brien had a full year of defense under his belt. Doug Seib was ready to take regular shifts after making a significant improvement from his first year. John Konfala switched from forward to goal, and gave the team the extra netminder it had lost the season before. Eddie Ricketts had become the most prolific offensive force in the league. Bob Matthews returned to his sophomore year form. Dave Bogonovich banged the corners and the net. Bernie Reese added still more depth at forward along with Pete Citrone. Mike Ziemianski meanwhile developed into a playmaker extraordinaire to compliment his hard-hitting shot blocking defensive game.
Then came the class of 1982. Additional players to provide even more depth, two bona fide stars in Lou Nicolai and Pat Felton, solid experience in defenseman Rick Doerr and Charlie Flynn, another goaltender in Jim Rahenkamp and a supporting cast of Kevin Kelly, Frank Kubus, Brian Radocaj, and George Fedeanis. It was this group that head coach Bob Farrell needed to complete the puzzle of a winning team.
The first three games were used by Farrell to give valuable playing time to all players, but it was clear that when the top two lines were on the ice, the team was able to dominate its opponents. As the season progressed, the team solidified its position in the league.
In the first round of the playoffs, SVC faced off against Point Park College. Unfortunately, Mark Higgins, the first line center, came down with an injury and was unable to dress for the contest. In spite of out shooting Point Park by a 41 to 24 margin and at times absolutely dominating play, a bad lapse in the second period and outstanding goaltending by the Point Park netminder found SVC on the short end of a disappointing 5-3 loss.
The season was marked by the vivid memories of: Matthews coming back to play like old against Slippery Rock; “Parma’s” first win in goal, Ricketts scoring 5 against the Rock; Thrashing an IUP playoff team during the regular season; “Bogon” scoring a key game winning goal against CCAC in a spectacular come from behind victory in a battle that ended with a bench clearing brawl; Coach Farrell coming onto the ice to break up the CCAC fight, only to have a CCAC player jump him and rip his new coat and causing “Coach” Farrell to turn back the hands of time and deck the CCAC goon; “Hyma’s saves against Penn State McKeesport and Allegheny College; Pat Felton’s hat trick; Lou Nicolai destroying anything in his way while on his mission to score a goal; the hustle of Mark Higgins; J.T.’s tow goal game against Point Park and his check against CCAC star Dave Milner that started “the big fight”; “Z-Man’s” hip checks, breakout passes, blocked shots, and battered eye; the skating of Wagner; the late season play of Doug Seib who found a team to torture in Slippery Rock; the “O.B.” method, and of course, the incomparable one game career of Co-Director and voice of the Polar Bearcats, Jay Murray.
Also, it marked the first time that two of the team’s members were recognized with major college awards from the school. Jay Murray was awarded the Outstanding Student Alumni Award, and Mike Ziemianski became the first player in the team’s history to be given the Rafferty Award for recognition as the school’s top scholar athlete.
The team was also blessed with the presence of its Administrative liason, long time Alumni Director, Fr. Herman Ubinger, O.S.B. Father Herman became a permanent fixture at every game, his bright orange hunters knit cap standing out from the crowd and routing on the team. He not only provided encouragement, but acted as a spiritual advisor and financier of the operation with invaluable assistance in raising funds for the team.
1978-1979 also marked the first time in the history of the team that an alumni game was held. A tradition that would continue throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s during the years in which the school did not have enough players to field a full time team.
To say such a game was overdue would be an understatement. After doing extensive research with the help of Fr. Herman, Mike Ziemianski worked diligently to make the game a reality. The response from former players was inspiring.
At game time, only half of the Polar Bearcat team came to the rink. But the alumni were prepared. The undergrads stood in disbelief as the powerful alumni warmed up. The first alumni team comprised the likes of “Dutch” Surmon, Bob Farrell, Dave Vance, Mike Kaleina, John McQuillan, Harry Hart, Mike Shapert, Andy Labrasca, Joe Repucci, Jim Ward, Joe Burick, Denny Brunetta, Roland DeFelice, Rick Dell, Chris Carlton, and Keith Coon. Fortunately for the undergrads, younger legs and good goaltending prevailed, but nonetheless, the game became a classic.
Just as one would expect, Roland DeFelice scored two goals simply by being around the back side of the net. Chris Carlton stumbled and fell but just as in his playing days, chipped one in as well. Dave Vance had several end to end rushes. He had not slowed down much. Of course, Rick Dell and John McQuillan assisted on the goals. Though “Dutch” had not played goal for 6 years, few goalies could have been equal to the task. He twice stopped Lou Nicolai on breakaways, and had a glove hand as quick as “Lumpy” Labrasca. Too bad his skates were too tight. He played the final two period in his street shoes!
Meahwhile, for the undergrads, John Konfala was knocking down head high slap shots from Rick Dell and John McQuillan, making kick saves on Bob Farrell, and flopping to make desperation saves over and over. On defense, Mike Ziemianski logged almost 35 minutes of ice time. Never seeming to tire, he rushed the puck again and again hitting open forwards with a pass and then sitting back and executing a poke check or blocking a shot. Single tallies were recorded by the Z-Man, Kevin Kelly, and Doug Seib, while Lou Nicolai was finally able to solve the Dutch Surman puzzle with two goals, including the game winner. In the final 30 seconds, 8 alumni were on the ice trying to score against Konfala. Former Coach Al Reinshagen had volunteered to referee the game and permitted the “rule modification”. But with a few icings and some additional quick saves by John Konfala, it was over. Undergrads 5 Alumni 4.
It was a great game with a lot of fun. A perfect way to end a great season of memories, provide a bridge to the past, and say farewell to the final players and the class of 1979: Ed Ricketts, Don Rothrauff, Dave Bogonovich, Mike Ziemianski, Mark Higgins, Bernie Reese, Mark O’Brien, Jay Murray, and Bob Matthews.