Facing off against Youngstown State in the final game of the 1999-2000 season. Joshua Sokolowski is in the net defended by #94 Matt Harvet and #91 Chris Stiles. Bryan Messina, #15, has the inside wing position with Brett Martz taking the draw. Suman Chakrabarti , #7, is on left wing. Suman would score the game tying goal and Bryan the game winner later in the contest.
“The Second Ice Age”
1999 – 2000
“Ice Hockey Returns to Saint Vincent College”
For many years the dream of returning a competitive intercollegiate ice hockey team to Saint Vincent was kept alive by a small group of alumni. At the end of the 1998-1999 school year several events merged into an opportunity to resurrect the program. Tom Holowaty, Professor of Accounting had been involved with the sport as a result of his association with the Ligonier Valley High School Ice Hockey Club. His son Tim, a member of that team, had committed to come to SVC along with several other local players. Other students on campus who had played competitively expressed an interest after publicity flyers were spread around campus and soon a critical mass of players was available.
Tom Holowaty approached the administration, obtained seed funding, and started to assemble the rest of the pieces to the puzzle. He soon signed a contract with Center Ice Arena in nearby Delmont, Pennsylvania and established a relationship with the Western Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Hockey Association (WPCHA). Former SVC player and alumnus Mike Kaleina, the Commissioner of the league established St Vincent as a provisional member for the upcoming season.
In searching for a coach, he found an enthusiastic reception from former player and alumnus, Mike Ziemianski C’79. Mike had not only been a 4 year starter on the team in the 1970’s but had maintained his association with the sport as a life long endeavor by playing in adult leagues, officiating, coaching amateur programs, and managing several youth development programs at rinks in the Pittsburgh area. It was easy for Coach Ziemianski to recruit several SVC Hockey alumni and before long a coaching staff was assembled that included former players Vince Kadlubek, Denny Brunetta, Joe Burick, and Dave Bogonovich as well as former head coach from the early years of the team, Al Reinshagen.
Towards the end of the 1998 – 1999 school year a small group meeting was held with Coach Ziemianski and several of the incoming freshman and upper classman. Tom Holowaty had created a schedule of 12 games for the upcoming year and Sunday afternoon practice slots were finalized.
One big question remained concerning the viability of a competitive program. Although the team had a solid core of experienced players, no goaltender had emerged as a candidate to guard the SVC net. Then, towards the end of summer, there was a commitment made by an incoming freshman, Joshua Sokolowski. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place.
In early September, at the first organized ice hockey practice in more than 25 years at St. Vincent, the coaches ran a number of skill assessment drills and began to learn about the players committed to the team and several stars were immediately recognizable. Brett Martz, Todd Evans and Dave Teske formed the first line, Jesse Podlucky, Tim Holowaty, and Jason Boone, the second, Dave Avolio, Pat (Rich) Showman, and Bryan Messina made the third unit, and forwards Matt Grand and Suman Chakrabarti completed the set of forwards. Defensive pairings included Brian Kocszuk and Chris Stiles, Nick DiNardo and Mike Beaver, and Matt Harvey and Adam Zawalsh. Finally Doug Miedel joined the team to provide backup support for starting goaltender, Josh Sokolowski.
The first two games for the new team were close hard fought matches that ended in narrow defeats for the Polar Bearcats. It was at that time that the coaching staff rearranged the lines to form a first unit that included Brett Martz, Jesse Podlucky, and Todd Evans. The team went 4-0-2 in the next six games included resounding victories over UPJ (8-1), Youngstown State (9-3) and Penn State West (10-6).
The team entered the second semester with a solid 4-2-2 mark. Unfortunately, Todd Evans was a December graduate and the outstanding combination was unable to be placed on the ice for the rest of the season. Even still, Martz and Podlucky were able to keep the offense alive and Sokolowski was a solid anchor in the nets. The team entered the last game of the season with a 5-5-1 mark as it headed to Youngstown to take on the YSU Penguins in the final match of the season. In an exciting game that saw several lead changes, Suman Chakrabarti scored a late third period goal to knot the score at 7-7. Then in a flurry of active, Bryan Messina, playing in his last game of his senior season ripped a wrist shot from the right wing past the YSU goalie for what proved to be the game winner. Getting a final late goal, SVC won the match by a score of 9-7 and finished the first season in more than 25 years with a winning record of 6-5-2.
The season will be remembered for the outstanding effort of a group of first year college freshman and several upperclassmen who, in spite of some not having played for several years, turned in solid efforts. It was a single glorious year for seniors Todd Evans and Bryan Messina. It was a season where Doug Miedel, a backup net minder who had never played organized hockey stopped all 5 shots he faced in 7 spectacular minutes of play. It was a year in which Joshua Sokolowski and Brett Martz emerged as league stars. It became a foundation on which to build for the next year, 2000-2001, the first season of league play.