“Solidifying the Program”
2002 – 2003
“Returning to the Playoffs”
After an extremely successful run in the playoffs in 2001 – 2002, there was a lot of optimism to be had at the outset of the 2003 – 2003 campaign. Even though the team graduated the league’s leading scorer in Brett Martz and defenseman Marc Bilinski, the playoff squad was basically intact. Although the previous year’s recruiting efforts did not attract all of the forwards the team needed to restock is attack, the defense was significantly improved by the addition of three very strong incoming freshman, Jeff Stein from the Harrisburg area, T.J. Drake from Fox Chapel, and Mike Speagle from Michigan. Also added to the mix was a forward transfer student from UPJ, Jason Ruehl, and several other incoming freshmen, a Plum High School graduate, Drew Mateya and Chris Craft from Freeport.
Once again SVC would boast one of the highest scoring lines in league as Captain Jordan Spallone teamed with Tom Ward and Jesse Podlucky. Not far behind in was a unit that combined center Ryan Silvis with Ben Komlos and Jason Ruehl. Ryan Tucek frequently centered a 3’rd line and forwards Tom Delcoco, Tim Holowaty, Rich Showman, Drew Mateya, Jason Boone, Bill Hope, Chris Craft and Gordon Shaler all made significant contributions with key goals, penalty killing efforts, and smart offensive and defensive play throughout the season.
On defense, St. Vincent had assembled one of the deepest and most talented blueline corps in the league. Returning from solid freshman years, Rick Myers, Brad Lloyd and Chris Kolmar provided a foundation that teamed with 3 year regular Matt Harvey. When combined with a stellar recruiting class of T.J Drake, Mike Speagle, and Jeff Stein and second semester additions Brian Geckler and Matt Reiter, the team was able to overcome the loss of two time all star Brian Kosczuk who opted to not play his senior season.
Goaltending was held down by Andrew Tulley. With the loss of Mike Downey due to injury the previous year, Tulley not only moved into the number one position on the team, but he solidified the total defensive system for the team. Unfortunately, Mike did not return for the 2002-2003 season and Tulley had to bear the full load as the only goaltender for the team. To help the team in practice, a local adult team netminder and Former Gateway High School Standout Del Kubeldis, played a vital role in providing additional goaltending. In the second semester, the team was able to land a transfer from WVU, Andrew Modecki who provided the depth the team needed to make a run in the playoffs.
The season started extremely strong for the team. After a tune up game against a newly formed Wheeling Jesuit University team, St. Vincent faced off against rival Slippery Rock University, the team that had defeated the Polarbearcats by one goal in the league semi-finals the previous year. Behind an outstanding effort in between the pipes by Andrew Tulley, and key goals by Jordan Spallone, who scored on a fact off, and Ryan Silvis on a partial breakaway, SVC skated away with a 4-3 victory. After the first two matches, St. Vincent the reeled off two straight victories and held on against UPJ for a 2-2 tie.
The team then traveled to Maryland for a weekend trip to play Loyola and the Naval Academy. Against Loyola, SVC came out flying but in spite of dominating the first period and outshooting Loyola by a wide margin, the first frame ended with only a 2-1 SVC advantage. The second period was not as kind the St. Vincent icers as Loyola scored 5 times to only one tally for the Green & Gold. St. Vincent made a comeback in the third stanza but two late Loyola goals thwarted the attempt. The next day marked the first time that any St. Vincent team played Naval Academy. As fast as SVC came out against Loyola, the team played a sluggish first period against Navy. To make matters worse, Captain Jordan Spallone received an injury in the game against Loyola and was unable to dress while Tim Holowaty had an injured wrist and Jason Boone was still not back to his previous form due to knee surgery.
But once again, as in games against Slippery Rock and UPJ, Tulley came to play in goal and turned away midshipman shot after midshipman shot in the opening period. Unlike the day before, St. Vincent turned the tables in the second period by putting in 5 goals on only 10 shots. Bill Hope made a key play off a forecheck and fed the puck to Tom Ward for a score to get the green and gold moving. As the game wore on, St. Vincent gradually began to control more and more of the play as most of the Navy shots came from bad angles and were easily handled by Tulley. Freshman Drew Mateya’s hat trick solidified the victory. Drew ripped a slap shot from the slot for his first tally and scored a short handed breakaway goal for his second score. His outstanding offensive production was also combined with solid defense. The hard work was rewarded with Drew being on the ice for defense when Navy pulled their goalie. Drew stripped the puck from a Navy attacker and rushed up the ice to score into an open net to seal the win.
Returning to Western Pennsylvania, the team made a statement by dominating during the next three games producing three straight wins. Poor officiating hurt St. Vincent against Edinboro and a clean flow was never established. As a result, SVC was down by a score of 4-3 with less than a minute to play. With Tulley pulled for an extra attacker, an Edinboro forward streaked into the St. Vincent zone and on a clear approach to the net missed by hitting the outside of the goal frame. That’s all that was needed fro St. Vincent to turn the play in the other direction and complete a score for a 4-4 tie.
The next few games saw the team hit a mid season slump. Unable to stop Penn State West all star Mike Nestico, with an injured Andrew Tulley against IUP and no available backup, a penalty filled poorly officiated game against Pitt, a disappointing loss against Cal where SVC dominated play but could not score, and a drubbing by UPJ, the confidence of the team started to wane. Morale began to sink even lower as CMU pulled off a victory; a team that was dominated by SVC in an earlier season contest. To make matters worse, Brad Lloyd sustained a concussion against Cal and had to withdraw from the remainder of the season.
The next game was exactly what the team needed. St. Vincent returned to its old form and dominated a weaker Case Western Reserve University squad while second semester transfer goalie recorded his first shutout. The next game against Penn State West was a must win for the Polarbearcats. By teaming key match ups against Penn State West star forward Mike Nestico, SVC pulled off a dominating 7-3 victory that set up a first round playoff game against IUP.
The first time the Green and Gold faced off against the Indians, an otherwise evenly played game was marred by an injury to Andrew Tulley. Tulley took a shot off the knee cap and played most of the second half of the game while unable to move up and down. With no backup goalie available, and in spite of a heroic effort, IUP took advantage of the situation. This time however, SVC brought a healthy team onto the ice and a determination that overwhelmed IUP. In spite of a very poorly officiated game and numerous penalties against St. Vincent, the Polarbearcats took advantage of every scoring opportunity and ripped off 5 goals on only 6 shots in the second period while killing off all but one of the 6 IUP powerplays, including two 5 on 3 advantages. The final score, SVC 9 IUP 5.
This set up a rematch against Slippery Rock in what was becoming a heated rivalry. SRU would have gone through the season undefeated up to that point had it not been for the early season SVC 4-3 victory against the SRU Pride. The previous year the same two teams met in the semi finals and Slippery Rock came away with a one goal victory. In a similar plot, St. Vincent fell again to SRU, this time by a 2-1 margin with Ryan Tucek being the only Polarbearcat player to solve SRU goalie Jason Kortz. In the league championship series Slippery Rock fell from a one game lead to lose to UPJ in the best of three series.
The 2002 – 2003 season had several other significant highlights for the team as well. It marked the first time that seniors who had played with the program for four full years were graduating. Tim Holowaty, Rich Showman, Matt Harvey, and Jason Boone, all having made significant contributions to the foundation of the second team were preparing to move on. Additionally, Brian Koczuck, a three year starter and Bill Hope and Dave Avolio, each with two seasons of experience were graduating with the class of 2003.
One of the most significant events of the season, the 2002 – 2003 all star game, saw the Saint Vincent Representatives dominate the contest. With SVC leading the South division standings at the All-Star break, Coach Mike Ziemianski was selected to head the South All Stars. This enabled him to place five SVC players on the squad. Forwards Tom Ward and Jordan Spallone joined blueliners Rick Myers and T.J. Drake along with goaltender Andrew Tulley. As a five man unit paired with winger Mike Nestico from Penn State West, they thoroughly dominated the game in leading the South All Stars to a 9-2 route of the Northern squad coached by Bob Black of Slippery Rock University. Jordan Spallone was named game MVP accounting for 3 goals and 3 assists while Tom Ward had a second consecutive outstanding All Star game with 2 goals and 3 assists. Mike Nestico added two goals, and Rick Myers added an eighth. Meanwhile, T.J. Drake dominated all 1:1 defensive plat and Andrew Tulley was the winning goaltender of record.
At the end of the year team dinner, the Bill Vance MVP Award went to goaltender Andrew Tulley. The Andy Vahaly Memorial Award was picked up by leading scorer Tom Ward. Meanwhile, the Fr. Herman Ubinger Unsung hero honor went to team plus minus leader Ryan Silvis. The first ever Al Reinshagen Memorial Excellence award was given to Jordan Spallone. The Most Improved player went to Matt Harvey. An outstanding finish to another chapter in the ongoing history of Saint Vincent Ice Hockey.