After beating the top-ranked team in its division Friday, the ice hockey club team took care of business at home Saturday.
On Friday, the Owls defeated the University of Maryland Baltimore-County, ranked No. 1 overall in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Southeastern Conference. Junior goalie Will Niefeld made 40 saves, senior forward Patrick McHugh scored two goals and the Owls won, 4-2.
“Friday night was big for us,” coach Jerry Roberts said. “We earned two important points in the standings, but more importantly, we saw what we are capable of accomplishing when we play to our potential.”
The Owls followed Friday’s game with a win over No. 11 Rider. Niefeld recorded 34 saves, McHugh scored another goal and the Owls won, 2-1.
Saturday’s game started in a defensive standstill. The first 10 minutes were marked with continuous play as neither team scored or committed a penalty. There was even puck distribution, and both teams recorded more than 10 shots in the first 10 minutes. A Rider interference penalty with a little more than five minutes left in the first gave Temple a power-play opportunity, and senior forward Michael Kozole netted the game’s first goal to give his team the lead.
“We’ve been struggling all season with the man advantage,” Roberts said. “We finally feel that we are making progress with it.”
Rider continued its attack for the remainder of the first period, but Niefeld made 12 saves, ending the first period with a 1-0 Temple lead.
The second period started with Rider controlling the puck and receiving the majority of scoring opportunities, forcing Niefeld to make three saves in the first five minutes. But the Broncs found themselves down one man again after a tripping penalty with 15 minutes, 27 seconds remaining. The Owls’ power play came through again, as McHugh scored his third goal of the weekend for a 2-0 lead.
“Offensively, this was not one of our best games,” Roberts said. “However, both of our goals came on the power play, which is a big change for us.”
The Owls defense also played well in the second period. Niefeld made another 14 saves, and the penalty kill eliminated three Temple infractions to maintain the Owls’ two-goal lead.
“Our defense was sound, as it has been all season,” Roberts said. “I can’t say enough about our penalty killers right now.”
The defense was also at work for the entire third period. Rider bothered Niefeld all period, consistently getting the puck deep and registering shots on goal. But penalties crippled both offenses as the two teams combined for 10 penalties in the period. A Rider goal was inevitable, and with less than 10 minutes left, the Broncs took advantage of a five-on-three and cut the Owls’ lead to one.
Rider continued the pressure in the final minutes, registering five shots on goal after the team pulled its goalie with approximately one minute left. Niefeld and the Owls’ penalty kill shut the Broncs down, allowing the Owls to win the game, 2-1.
“The past few weeks, we’ve been making things hard on ourselves by spending too much time in the penalty box, but time and time again, our PK units bail us out,” Roberts said. “If we can get our power-play unit to perform at the same level as our PK, we’ll be dangerous come playoff time, where games tend to be decided by special teams.”
The Owls are now 11-2-0-1 and have the fourth-most points in the ACHA Southeastern Conference.
“I think we made a few statements to different people this weekend – our opponents, the ranking committee, but most importantly, ourselves,” Roberts said. “The players have finally become self-aware and understand what we need to do to win the big games. There is still a lot of hockey to be played, and we haven’t accomplished anything yet. But we know what we’re capable of and are confident in our ability to execute.”