Ryan Frain holds every major Temple ice hockey offensive record since official stats have been kept. Frain is the Owls’ all-time leader in points, goals, assists and games played, among other categories.
When Frain graduated this summer, coach Jerry Roberts and the team were faced with the question, “How do we move on without one of the greatest players in the program’s history?” For Roberts, the answer was easy: Make him a coach.
“It’s so hard to pour everything you have into [something], and to just walk away, it’s almost impossible,” said Roberts, who played for Temple from 2002-07. “When the opportunity came up, [Frain] jumped on it and I don’t see him letting go of it anytime soon.”
Frain played for Temple from 2006-10, leading the team in scoring in four out of five seasons. Last season as the assistant captain, Frain scored a team-high 37 points while leading the Owls to their first ever appearance in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Nationals. Frain contacted Roberts this summer and offered his assistance as coach for the 2011-12 season.
“I wanted to give back to these guys and make them better as individuals, not only in hockey but in life,” Frain said. “I want to help these guys have the same success I did.”
“I didn’t want to leave Temple hockey for good,” Frain added. “I wanted to help [the players] like the Temple coaches helped me.”
Frain has fit right in with the coaching staff. Along with Roberts, offensive coach Chris Mariello and defensive coach Konstantin Sakherzon are also former Temple players. The three young coaches each played from 2003-05, when the team won three consecutive Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference championships.
“It’s easy for the players to relate to the coaches, and vice versa, because in the past 10 years they’ve all been there,” senior forward Taylor Lockhart said. “They’ve all been in our shoes. It’s easier for the coaches to get across to the players what needs to be done, or what needs to happen.”
“It’s a whole different ballgame, going from player to coach,” Frain added. “As I was a big contributor to the team for the past five years, it’s hard for me to stand there on the bench and not want to jump out there with them and help them score or give them a lift in confidence.”
Frain has been working with Mariello and the offense on calling out matchups for line changes and identifying trends from the opposition.
“Anybody who played with [Frain] respects anything he says, you really take it to heart,” Lockhart said. “It’s almost as if he gets extra attention because some of the kids who played with him know what he used to do on the ice.”
Lockhart and his teammates have been dealt the task of trying to replace Frain’s offensive production this year. So far they haven’t been successful. The Owls have lost 10 games in a row after winning their season opener against Rider. The offense is averaging 2.00 goals per game as opposed to their 3.84 average last season with Frain.
“It’s definitely been a challenge,” Roberts said. “[Frain] wasn’t just the leading goal scorer for one year, he was the leading goal scorer for several years. You knew that every single night he was going to get on the board in some way shape or form.”
“It’s been different,” Lockhart added. “We know were not going to go out there and score four goals a game. I realize that some of the returning players and myself have a lot more weight on their shoulders to score those goals.”
Despite the Owls’ scoring woes, there have been some bright spots. Junior forwards Joe Pisko and Sean Nealis have each stepped up and played significant roles on offense. Nealis, who had to earn his spot on the team after being cut last year, leads the team in points.
“The biggest name among people who have stepped up is undoubtedly [Nealis],” Roberts said. “Every time he’s on the ice, stuff is happening around him.”
“I’m really glad that [Nealis] decided to come back out,” Frain added. “I know that when you get cut it’s a huge blow to your confidence. He’s a gritty player. He works really hard. Obviously, he’s the leading scorer so things are paying off for him.”
Senior forward George Rutter joins Lockhart, Nealis and Pisko to make up the new face of the Owls’ offense.
“We have Pisko, Lockhart and Rutter, those are the guys who I like to count on, night in and night out, to be contributors,” Frain said.
“With [Frain] leaving, we have a relatively younger offensive unit this year,” Roberts added. “We’re still looking to identify some of his replacements.”
While the offense has struggled to adjust without Frain, Roberts said that injuries and good competition have been the cause of the Owls’ early season woes. Senior defensemen Andrew Trainor and Jordan Lawrence, two of the Owls’ best players, have both missed significant time due to injury and six of the Owls’ 10 losses have come against teams who also went to the ACHA Nationals last year.
“Lines have been all over the place,” Roberts said. “We’re still experimenting to find out what works best. Not so much for establishing top lines, but establishing depth where we have at least three and hopefully four solid lines.”
“I’m trying to keep guys positive,” Frain added. “The wins are going to come their way. It’s hard to get into a groove when you’re losing.”
Whether or not the Owls can break out of their early-season slump remains to be seen, but no matter what happens, Frain will be behind the bench doing everything he can to help his team win, just like he’s been doing for the past five years.
“I love this team,” Frain said. “I always thought it was weird how much [Roberts] loved [the team] as much as he did when I was a player. Now, I feel the same way, or even more.”