After defeating Delaware Friday night, the Penn State Ice Lions bested the Temple Owls 4-1 Saturday to finish one of the season’s most spirited weekends.
In a game that seemed to have a physical altercation after every whistle, The Ice Lions were forced to tip-toe a line between discipline and aggression.
“Hockey is a nasty game,” Coach Matt Morrow said. “There's a fine line between sticking up for your teammates and hurting the team by taking a dumb penalty.”
That innate reflex to defend teammates that seems to burn inside of every hockey player was in full effect for the Ice Lions, when both Neil Laessig and Will Vaeth were injured on the same play in the first period.
Seeing Laessig’s body go limp after awkwardly sliding headfirst into an onrushing Temple defender disturbed the Ice Lions’ focus, Morrow said.
A lack of focus led to undisciplined play and a penalty-riddled second period for Penn State. Temple would score their lone goal on the power play, after a shot from the high slot beat a sprawling Ryan Demuth.
“We got sucked into the rough play more than I would have liked and we took too many penalties,” Captain Joe Zitarelli said.
Despite the loss of speedy forwards Laessig and Vaeth for the game’s final two periods and a stingy corps of Temple blueliners, the Ice Lions managed to put 50 shots on Temple goaltender Chris Mullen.
And when Mullen kicked one of those 50 shots away and the Owls transitioned back to offense, the Ice Lions defensive unit met the challenge, thwarting any momentum Temple might have gained.
Using one of the forwards as a third defensemen in the neutral zone, the Ice Lions were able to keep the play in Temple’s end of the ice. This “middle man”, as sophomore defenseman Brandon Russo called it, allowed Penn State’s defensemen to step up and take more risks.
Then it was up to the Ice Lions offense to prove why they’re ranked No. 4 in the ACHA Southeast division.
The first line of Franky Reluzco, Taylor Vincent, and Ryan Urban were buzzing around the net the whole game, wreaking havoc on the Temple defense.
“When you win 50-50 puck battles in the offensive zone, you're going to generate a lot of shots and second chance opportunities in front of the net,” Morrow said.
Temple’s Chris Mullen can attest to that.
The Ice Lions might not string together a 25-game winning streak as they did last season. But, with the weekend sweep, the team is showing signs of consistency as they march toward their ultimate goal.
“If we want to win at nationals, it's a good habit to start winning now,” Russo said.