2003 2004 Team Photo (Taken at the U.S. Naval Academy)
Lying: Andrew Tulley
Kneeling (L-R) Coach Mike Ziemianski, Andy Modecki, Craig Dolan, Tom Delcoco, Ryan Tucek, Jesse Podlucky, Cory Bruzda, Tom Ward, TJ Drake
Standing (L-R) Ryan Silvis, Drew Mateya, Brad Solomon, Mark Pavlik, Jordan Miller, Rick Myers, Pat Bates, Mike Speagle, Matt Ward, AJ Jamiolkowski, Brandon Patterson, Chris Craft, Jason Seidling, Coach Vince Kadlubek
Not Pictured: Ryan Adams, Akhil Mahlorta, Brad Lloyd, Jeff Stine
“A Season of Achievement”
2003 – 2004
“Going to Nationals”
2003 – 2004 will without a doubt be recognized for all time as one of the greatest seasons in the annals of St. Vincent College hockey. It truly was “A season of achievement.” With the graduation of the first class of 4-year players, loss of two of the team’s offensive stars, and an incoming class of 12 freshman, it was difficult to predict on paper what the squad would have been like before the first practice. Those questions were soon answered.
As the team went through the first few drills it became apparent that there was more depth and talent than had ever suited up for the Polar Bearcats. At one point, Coach Ziemianski looked in the stands and said to Rich Myers, father of team Captain Rick Myers, “Better make your reservations now, this team is going to Nationals.” He was more right than he could ever know.
One would have thought that replacing Spallone and Komlos from the previous year an impossible task. That the loss of Brad Lloyd due to a concussion would have seriously hurt the depth at the blue line. That the graduation of Holowaty, Boone, Showman, and Harvey would leave a void of leadership. It was soon apparent that even with these setbacks, this team was ready to rock.
It did not take long for returning all star Tom Ward, to team with his brother, Matt, and Ryan Adams, former Pittsburgh Hornet and Shadyside Academy player, to establish themselves as one of the deadliest lines in the league. After only a few practices it became apparent that they had a chemistry that would eventually spell doom for many goaltenders in the upcoming campaign. Ryan Silvis, after building a reputation as one of the leagues steadiest centers, teamed with two freshmen, former Latrobe High School Captain and Johnstown Jr. Chief Jordan Miller, and Craig Dolan, to create a second line that on most other teams would have been a first unit. Added to that mix was the senior leadership of Assistant Captain Ryan Tucek and Tom Delcoco who were often paired with either Sophomore Drew Mateya or Elizabeth-Forward freshman Brandon Skoogland to form a solid checking line. That mix was rounded by two more freshman forwards, Brandon Patterson of Belle Vernon, and Cory Bruzda of Ligonier, and the return of the skilled forward Jesse Podlucky and the hustling Chris Craft.
On defense, this team boasted the most depth ever seen at SVC. Two returning All Stars, Captain Rick Myers, and T.J. Drake were among the steadiest blueliners in the league. Also returning were regulars Mike Speagle from Michigan and Jeff Stine from Central Dauphin, near Harrisburg. Four incoming freshman, A.J. Jamiolkowski from Montour and the Beaver Badgers, Jason Seidling from Norwin, Brad Solomon from Lake Carroll High School in Texas, and Mark Pavlik from the Indiana Jr. C team, meant that the team had plenty of help in front of its own net. Early in the first few practices, Jason Ruehl was approached by the coaching staff and moved from his forward role the previous year, and returned to his Greensburg Central Catholic position on defense. With that move the defense was set.
The previous season, SVC started the year with one netminder, Andrew Tully. Fortunately, the team picked up help in the second semester with the arrival of a transfer student form WVU and Latrobe native Andy Modecki. The squad also received great news when the team learned of another transfer from Allegheny College, Akhil Mahlorta, who represented the Gators in the All-Star game the previous season. Unfortunately due to transfer rules, Akhil was ineligible for league or ACHA play during the season.
2004-2005 opened with a sloppy victory over Cal 7-4. The squad played well enough to win, but the chemistry was not quite right. The next match against Loyola was an eye opener. Beaten often to loose pucks and intimidated in the corners, the team never looked sharp and dropped the match 6-1. The next game, a trip to Edinboro University, saw the Polar Bearcats regain some form, but a 3’rd period collapse occurred when The Fighting Scotts scored 5 goals on only 6 shots. After 3 games, the team had some big question marks at one win and two losses with a tough opponent up next, last year’s CHE Champion, UPJ.
With Andrew Tully not playing well, the coaching staff decided to start Andrew Modecki against UPJ, even though Tully had always played well against the Ice Cats at their home rink. Unfortunately, the first period ended up with SVC on the downside of a 2-0 score in 17 minutes of tight play with SVC out shooting UPJ 8 to 6. Switching back to Tully in the second period, and after a fiery locker room speech by Coach Ziemianski, the second period saw the Polar Bearcats dominate UPJ, out shooting the home team 22 to 5. Even though the score ended the second frame with UPJ up 3 to 2, the tide had been turned. SVC outscored UPJ by a 4 to 0 margin in the third to come away with the victory. Although the next game against Case appeared to be an easy 7-4 win, the team was headed to Maryland for two tough away games against Loyola and Navy.
When 1’st line center, Ryan Adams was unable to make the trip, Brandon Patterson was moved to center Matt and Tom Ward. Whatever magic overtook the team against UPJ, carried over. The game against Loyola was a complete reversal. Before Loyola knew what happened, Jordan Miller and Matt and Tom Ward pumped in 4 quick goals in the first period. It didn’t end there. By the end of the second, it was SVC 7 Loyola 0. When Loyola started to headhunt in the last period, SVC simply played a dump and wait game and finished with a 7 to 3 win. The next day in an extremely physical game against Navy, Andrew Modecki turned in an outstanding performance in the nets. The long trip and the game against Loyola less than 16 hours earlier took its toll as Navy outshot St. Vincent 10 to 3. In spite of this, each team traded goals in that frame and the score ended in a 3-3 deadlock.
After the Loyola/Navy road trip, the team started to gel. The first line of Ward, Adams and Ward, began to establish itself as one of the premier trio of forwards in the league. The second line, settled into a combination of Assistant Captain Ryan Silvis, and freshmen Jordan Miller and Craig Dolan. Often matched against the other team’s top line, they not only held other team’s scorers in check, but also chipped in key goals. As the victories piled up, SVC started to be noticed around the nation as one of the better teams in ACHA Division III. Two key games set the stage for SVC’s first ever national ranking.
Robert Morris University was the first of these two contests. After having left College Hockey East’s fore runner, the Western Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Hockey Association when RMU won the National D III Title a few years earlier, RMU had established an independent program at the ACHA D III level. It still held its swagger and reputation as a hockey powerhouse when it visited St. Vincent at its home rink in Delmont. Although SVC dominated the contest in shots by a 42 to 20 margin, regulation time ended in a 3-3 tie. Although not part of CHE rules, Robert Morris wanted to play an overtime stanza fro ACHA ranking. The players convinced Coach Ziemianski that they wanted to take on the challenge and in less than one minute, Tom Ward drove the puck behind the RMU netminder for a 4-3 victory.
The second of these two games came against the top ranked team in the Northeast, undefeated IUP. In one of the worst blizzards in years, SVC traveled by bus to IUP. Most of the roads in Western Pennsylvania were impassable. Undaunted by the conditions, Coach Ziemianski was determined to make the game. Leaving his home at 5:30 PM, on most nights would have had him in Indiana by 7:15 PM. But not on this night. The game faced off on schedule at 9:15 PM, but still, no head coach was present. Keeping in touch by cell phone, Coach Z kept getting updates as Assistant Coaches Vince Kadlubek and Tim Holowaty ran the bench. Tully was not on top of his game and IUP outshot SVC 10 to 6 and ended with a 3-1 lead at the end of one. The Polar Bearcats kicked it up a notch in the second, with a 16 to 4 advantage in shots. Unfortunately the IUP goalie was almost unbeatable and St. Vincent only scored one tally to one for Indiana. Then at the start of the 3’rd period, Coach Z finally made it to the rink. Using quick line changes and a short bench, SVC held IUP to 2 shots on goal, while controlling the play most of the period in the IUP zone. The tactic worked. The Polarbearcat line of Ward, Adams and Ward solved the IUP goalie and the game ended in a 4-4 tie. As with Robert Morris, the schools played a 5-minute overtime. IUP registered no shots and SVC 2. The game ended in a tie.
Other than a late season scare by a high-powered offensive Penn State West team, SVC was never challenged the rest of the season. Although the team lost a defensive standout when Brad Solomon did not return, Brad Lloyd received clearance from his doctor to again suit up, and Pat Bates transferred in from Westmoreland Community College, bringing with him experience from Greensburg Central Catholic and the Johnstown Jr. Chiefs. With the addition of these tow players, the points kept piling up. Shots on goal were a consistent 2 to 1 in favor of the Green and Gold. And the regular season ended with a banner as the CHE Southern Division Champions.
With a first round playoff bye, SVC waited for its next opponent. It turned out to be Edinboro University. It was unfortunate that after having played so well for so long the team went flat. Even though in the end SVC outshot Edinboro by a slight margin, the team did not play to potential and dropped a frustrating 5-2 decision. A CHE championship was not to be. However, the strong showing throughout the season still paid off. As IUP defeated Edinboro two games to none in the CHE finals, SVC ended up with the number two ranking in the Northeast and an invitation to play in the National Tournament in Arizona. Team leading scorer, Tom Ward had a great sense of humor about the entire affair when he wrote on the Coach’s play board a message to the entire team….”Hey guys, sorry about Edinboro, but, your welcome for Arizona!”
It was an interesting feeling as everyone gathered in the airport in Pittsburgh to leave for Nationals. No one really knew how good the team would be when stacked against the best D III programs from around the country. Landing in Phoenix, the team was greeted by former player Tom Ruane from the early 1970 teams at SVC. He was excited that the school he played for more than 25 years ago was coming to the show. The vans left the Airport, took in the sites of Arizona, and settled into the hotel in Scottsdale. As the team and parents settled in, a group of them were sitting in the dining area of the hotel along with Coach Z. “I have something to ask you coach, but I want to wait until the player’s leave.” Once they cleared out he said, “What do you think our chances are? I mean, do you think we can win?”. Taking a deep breath, Coach Ziemianski said, “Well, we have some good players here and anything can happen. They have to believe in themselves and play like a team to do it. My expectations, if we go 2-2, this will be something we can all be proud about.” Unknown to the parent and the coach, a voice came from just outside the elevators…”That’s bullshit! We’re gonna win!”
SVC’s first match came against South Dakota State University. In a seesaw first period, SVC scored first, but SDSU quickly rebounded to knot the game at 1. Once the Polar bearcats understood that they could hang with a team comprised mainly of players from Minnesota, the score moved to 3-1 in favor of St. Vincent. Then came the turning point of the game, a five-minute power player for SVC. For five minutes the team tried to press the attack, but had no success. Then as it so often happens, the hope of a 4-1 lead, turned into a 3-2 lead as South Dakota State scored soon after they returned to full strength. SVC was never the same again. Although out shooting SDSU by a 13 to 7 margin in the second period, St. Vincent gave up two goals and scored none. In a rarity for the season, SVC was outshot in the 3’rd period 15 to 6. In spite of scoring a goal to bring the game back to a one goal deficit, SDSU took advantage of SVC’s need to pinch with its defense and scored on an odd man break and an empty net goal for a 7-4 SVC loss.
The Richmond University Spiders was the next opponent. Still somewhat down from the tough loss to South Dakota State, St. Vincent did not look strong against Richmond. Andrew Modecki started in goal and made several spectacular saves, but SVC’s usually strong defense left him out to dry on several occasions. As the game wore on, the players on the bench started to argue with each other. Then, poor officiating began to affect the contest as neither team could develop any rhythm. In a move designed to wake up the team, Modecki pulled himself from the game in favor of Tully. In a great display of leadership he came to the bench and challenged the team to pick it up. At the end of two periods the score was Richmond 5 SVC 4. Coach Ziemianski ripped the players in the locker room in between periods. Still in the 3’rd period the play languished. The officials ignored constant clutching, grabbing and tripping. Then finally, calling a penalty on something that he had let go the entire game SVC had a last minute power play and pulled the goalie with one minute to play in the game. Craig Dolan was the player of choice for the substitution. The freshman leaped from the bench and streaked into the Richmond zone. Flying into the corner, he wrestled a Spider player from the puck and fed it to Matt Ward. The team’s leading goal scorer made no mistake. The game was going to overtime. It was the good fortune of St. Vincent that the referee decided to call another penalty early in OT against Richmond. The energy from the last minute score carried over. In a blitzkrieg of shots, the Green and Gold took it to the Spiders. Ryan Adams, grabbed the puck out of the right corner, skated across the defending crease, sucked in both the defender and the goalie, and scored on a rifled backhander that absolutely undressed the entire Richmond team. The best quote on the goal came from defenseman Mike Speagle as he looked at Coach Z on the bench. “You know coach, that was just sick. Absolutely sick!”, as he joked about the skill displayed by Adams on the score.
So the stage was set against Georgia Tech. In scouting the team, it was soon discovered that goaltending was their strength. The Yellow Jackets had a 4-year netminder from Montreal who had also played two seasons at Merrimack, an NCAA program in New England. He was everything he looked to be. In spite of a 29 to 12 shot advantage, St. Vincent was down 2-0 at the end of the second period. However, going into the third, SVC had a power play and decided to switch from having a wing cut from the hash marks on give and go’s, to placing a big man in front, and using an extra forward on the point. The tactic worked. With TJ Drake playing the left point and Ryan Adams on the right, Tom and Matt Ward worked the puck around the perimeter. Mike Speagle was moved to the front of the net with one objective: create a screen. It worked. As two Georgia Tech defenders tried to move Mike, the goalie became distracted. Soon the ice opened up and Drake put the puck on the net for a goal. Later in the period the tactic worked again. This time a cross-ice feed from Ryan Adams gave Tom Ward all the time he needed to through puck in to the Georgia Tech net. The team got an additional lift from one of the most devastating hip checks ever thrown by anyone in the history of the team when Jason Ruehl flipped and destroyed and Georgia Tech player right in front of the SVC bench. The momentum had clearly changed, but, bad bounces are a part of hockey. While on a power play, Georgia Tech dumped the puck in to the SVC zone. Defenseman Mike Speagle went to the corner to receive a clearing pass from Tully who inadvertently shanked the pass to the front of his own net. A Georgia Tech player tapped it in. Eventually it lead to a 3-2 SVC defeat.
There was one game to go. Could SVC end at 2-2? A victory would lock up an 11’th overall ranking in the nation and the team had to play against Radford University. Even though the Polar Bearcats lost to Georgia Tech, they were clearly the superior team in that game and had the officiating been better and a bounce gone another way, the score could have been very different. The good news was the inspired play and how well the team rebounded. Radford never knew what hit them. Jordan Miller, playing front of his grandparents who moved to Arizona years earlier, opened the scoring by coming out of the corner and lifting a shot over the Radford goalie’s shoulder. Then it was Dolan’s turn and Matt Ward’s. At the end of two periods SVC was up 5 to 1 in goals, and 33 to 8 in shots. However, as in the three earlier games, poor officiating took its toll. Each team was called for numerous minor infractions while obvious calls were ignored. To put an exclamation mark into the game Jordan Miller, Tom Ward, and Jeff Stine grew the SVC lead to 7 to 1. The referee, however, continued to call an inconsistent game. Soon neither team knew what to expect and as the Radford players began to run at the St. Vincent players, the retaliation made the game get out of hand. At one time. Coach Ziemianski had to move defense to offense just to keep to full lines on the ice. Players who had received hardly any penalties the entire season were called for multiple violations. Then it happened. As the game wore on, seniors Ryan Tucek and Tom Delcoco were getting more and more ice time to try and score in their final game. As Ryan stripped the puck from a Radford player, two RU icers jumped him and started to throw punches, without hesitation, Delcoco and Brad Lloyd rushed to the aid of their teammate. Although all 3 were thrown out of the game, and Radford scored two late power play goals, the mark had been made, St. Vincent 7 Radford 3.
2003-2004 marked a whole series of milestones for the team. Tom Ward shattered the all time scoring record held by Dave Vance for more than 20 years. His brother, Matt, set a new single season record for goals scored with 45. Andrew Tully ended up as the all time leader in games, minutes played, and victories for a goaltender. Mike Ziemianski was named College Hockey East Coach of the Year. The team set school marks for games played, with 26, for victories with 19, goals scored with 178, and finished the year with an incredible advantage in shots on goal, 993 to 519.
There were many other great memories as well. Tom Ward was named to the second team all tournament team at Nationals. The huge hits by Cory Bruzda and his opening goal for the team at Nationals. Brandon Skoogland and AJ Jamiolkowski’s first goals against WVU. The continuous hustle of Brandon Patterson. The remarkable way in which Drew Mateya continued to improve. Jason Seidling’s two goal game against Frostburg and his great effort in the National tournament. Jesse Podlucky coming back for one more year to give added scoring touch to the team. Andrew Modecki’s improved play and another future goaltender, Akhil Malhorta who won both games he played. Coach Z hydroplaning the Van and cutting off traffic in Arizona. Enjoying the sun and the hot tub in Scottsdale. The reunion of Tom Ruane with Vince and Dennis Kadlubek and Denny Brunetta.
As far as awards, the team not only won the Southern Division Banner, but, Andrew Tully, Rick Myers, T.J. Drake, Tom Ward, Matt, Ward, Ryan Adams and Coach Ziemianski all represented the school at the College Hockey East All-Star Game. Rounding out the individual trophies, the Most Improved Player Award went to Andrew Modecki. The Andy Vahaly Team Spirit Award was presented to Rick Myers. Jason Ruehl won the Fr. Herman Ubinger Unsung Hero trophy as Ryan Adams was selected to receive the Al Reinshagen Hockey Excellence recognition. Finally the Bill Vance MVP puck was given to Tom Ward.
Indeed, it was a season of achievement!