“Coming of Age”
2001 – 2002
“Making a Run for It”
The start of the 2001-2002 season looked promising for the SVC Hockey program. With most of the team intact from the previous year, 7 freshman and 1 transfer student brought a new level of depth and talent to the school that advanced the team into the upper levels of the league.
Forwards Jordan Spallone, a transfer from WVU and an all star from Greensburg Central Catholic and Tommy Ward, also premier player at Greensburg Central Catholic High School were paired with Captain Brett Martz to form the highest scoring line in the entire league. They ripped through opponents and scored a devastating 80 goals in what may be argued for years as the best trio of forwards ever to lace up skates at the college. They developed enough notoriety that they were featured in newspaper articles throughout the region.
The second line also provided scoring touch as returning all star John Dobos was provided extra support from sophomore Tom Del Coco and an emerging star from Greensburg Salem High School and the Westmoreland Amateur Program, Ryan Silvis. Even when John did not return for the second semester, another ex Greensburg Central player, Ben Komlos solidified a group that all together added another 26 tallies to the Polar Bearcat cause.
Not to be outdone, the remaining forwards Tim Holowaty, Jason Boone, Pat Showman, Bill Hope, Ryan Tucek, Brian Geckler, Ed Peters, and Jesse Podlucky, developed into key role players by grinding out plays in the corners, driving hard to the net, killing penalties and scoring key goals. Their size, tenacity, and work effort provided a level of depth that had never before been seen in the history of the team. At one point, the college boasted 6 of the top 10 scorers in the entire league and boasted the most potent offense in the West Penn Collegiate Hockey Association.
Not to be outdone by the offense, returning all star Brian Kosczuk and upperclassmen Matt Harvey and Marc Bilinski received help on the blue line by the addition of four freshman who added as much depth on the blue line as the forwards had on offense. Steel Valley High School Captain Brad Lloyd and Assistant Captain Rick Myers from Baldwin who played together as a defensive pairing in the Central Pittsburgh Amateur program, made an immediate impact. Chris Kollmar from New York and Dave DePalma from New Jersey rounded out the additions. Myers and Lloyd became keys on the power play, and their familiarity with each other from amateurs created an instant chemistry that enabled new breakout patterns to emerge. DePalma proved to be an extremely reliable defenseman with outstanding game sense while Kollmar added a level of speed and skating ability that provided great mobility.
Goaltending questions were answered early in the season as Andrew Tulley made strong progress from a solid freshman year. Mike Downey, an Ohio all star from St. Ignatius in Cleveland, a sophomore who did not play his freshman year at SVC, brought a level of talent to the pipes that gave the team a solid net minding tandem.
With all of these pieces in place, the coaching staff was also upgraded by the addition of Jay Juffries who joined Head Coach Mike Ziemianski, and returning assistants Vince Kadlubek and Denny Brunetta. Jay had been behind the bench for several years at Canevin Catholic High School in Pittsburgh….a team that had become noted for winning championships.
The season started slowly for St. Vincent but the early contests were exciting matches that helped to build team moral and announce that new stars had joined the league. The first game of the season was away against a strong Edinboro University team. Three key players including Captain Brett Martz, goalie Mike Downey, and versatile Brian Geckler missed the first two periods due to a Lacrosse match. But no matter, Tom Ward, while killing a 5 on 3 Edinboro University power play, intercepted a pass and accelerated away from a shocked Edinboro power play unit to score a key goal that would be an indicator of great things to come for the freshman. After staying close for two periods, SVC trailed Edinboro 4 to 2 going into the 3’rd period. Just as the intermission started the three missing players arrived. The third period proved to be an outstanding match up. With SVC’s #1 line back in tact, the teams exchanged goals in a back and forth flurry that saw the game end in a 7-7 tie, with only a late goal by Edinboro saving the Scotts from losing two points in the match.
Even though the offense stayed hot, defensive woes continued to haunt SVC in the next game as a 7-3 lead against Penn State West early in the 3’rd period evaporated into an extremely disappointing 8-7 setback. The team began to question its ability to win games and once more against UPJ. With SVC protecting a 3-2 lead late into the 3’rd period, UPJ ripped off two quick goals to forge ahead 4 to 3 with less than 12 seconds to play. Undaunted by what might have been one of the most unforgiving losses of the year, SVC started the face off with no goalie. With time running out, Martz forced the puck deep into the UPJ zone and made a deft pass to Spallone. As all players rushed to the net, a quick flurry of shots resulted in a score by Tom Ward and a 4-4 tie, all with 2 seconds to spare!
It seemed as if the victory provided a spark that propelled St. Vincent to 10 game winning streak, the second longest in team history. Over the next decade of contests, SVC displayed one of the most powerful offenses in the league and defeated much larger schools such as WVU and Pitt, with the victory over the Panthers the first ever in school history. Brett Martz was the centerpiece of a 7 goal 3 assist explosion against Allegheny College which saw the visiting Polar Bearcats silence a “rowdy” Allegheny College crowd by ending the first period with a 6-0 margin. Spallone, Martz, and Ward all were elevated to player’s of the week awards and the strong showing enabled SVC to place all three of them as well as solid defenseman Brian Kosczuk on the South All Star team, a contest in which Ward scored two goals.
The season looked promising for St. Vincent as the winning streak went farther and farther until two huge games were to played for league supremacy. With a packed house at Center Ice Arena at Delmont, SVC took the ice against an undefeated Slippery Rock team. SVC was fighting for first place in the Southern division against Penn State West and SRU was attempting to maintain league supremacy. Unfortunately, Slippery Rock built an early 3-goal lead and never looked back as the Polar Bearcats dropped a disappointing 7-3 decision. Still, there was Penn State West the following weekend. The winner was to take first place and a bye in the initial round of the playoffs. In an extremely exciting contest, SVC was out marked by a 3-2 margin in the final frame and ended up on the wrong side of a 6-5 score.
Even still The Polar Bearcat team held a strong position for the playoffs. Unfortunately, due to an injury, the team entered into the race for the West Penn College Hockey Championship with only one goaltender as Mike Downey had a hand injury from a Lacrosse match. In the opening round, St Vincent played a conservative game of catch and utilized multiple defensive zone passes to frustrate an Edinboro team. As Myers and Lloyd made multiple East West Passes, the SVC forwards circled back into the zone and drew apart the Edinboro squad that was also hampered by the loss of their leading scorer, Chris Morgan due to a broken collarbone. In a contest that was never as close as the score indicated SVC outshot Edinboro 40 to 19 and carried away a 6-2 victory.
That set the stage for the big rematch against Slippery Rock in the league semi-final with the winner to take on Penn State West in a best 2 of 3 series. Unfortunately, due to a Lacrosse conflict Senior Captain and league leading scorer Brett Martz was unable to play against the Rock Pride. Additionally, one of the team’s best defensive forwards, Tim Holowaty was unable to play due to illness. The team decided to deploy a similar strategy that was put in place against Edinboro and to play a conservative puck control style. The plan worked. Once the SVC players realized that even without Martz they could play against SRU, the tempo and momentum of the game changed to the Polar Bearcats. Out shot 12 to 7 and 13 to 9 and outscored by a 3 to 1 margin, SVC quickly changed the tempo of the game in the 3’rd. Instead of the passive style used in the first two periods, SVC pushed the attack by using its speedy forwards to dump and pressure the Slippery Rock defense. Andrew Tulley came up huge on some early saves and with SRU back on its heels SVC closed the gap to 3-2 with 10 minutes to play in the game. As the contest drew to a close SVC came incredibly close to knotting the score. A breakaway attempt by Jordan Spallone saw the puck roll off his stick at the last moment. That was quickly followed by another by SVC forward, Ben Komlos, who was stopped by the SRU goalie. Pat Showman narrowly missed on a scramble. The with the goalie pulled, SVC put Marc Bilinski, a hard hitting defenseman in front of the SRU goalie to create a screen. Twice it almost worked. But SVC ran out of time and in spite of out shooting Slippery Rock 17 to 6 in the 3’rd period could put no more pucks past the Pride goaltender. Final score, SRU 3 SVC 2.