By Michael Battista/@MichaelBattista
The University of Pennsylvania returned from the 2022 ACHA Southeast Regionals having made history. In the program’s second ever appearance it won two games, beating its own previous record and setting a record for most wins by a Colonial team at the tournament.
Head coach Scott Carmack couldn’t be more proud of his team’s performance. After starting the season with the simple goal of just winning the Colonial Cup, his players continued to fight and reached farther than nearly any of them probably thought possible.
“To make it to the final game was a complete accomplishment beyond our expectations,” Carmack said. “We accomplished so many firsts this year for Penn and for our league we could not have been prouder of the way the guys performed. The comments and support from not only the Penn community and Alumni but from other teams in our league, local area and at the tournament itself exceeded all expectations and gave our team, seniors, and all involved memories for a lifetime.”
Penn’s performance is the first time a Colonial team has ever reached the National Tournament qualifying game.
The weekend started with Friday’s First Round game against #8 University of Kentucky. The Southeast Regionals were hosted by the Wildkats’ conference, the Tri-State Collegiate Hockey League, meaning the neutral ice at OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rink (Columbus, OH) held somewhat of a home-team advantage. Heading into Columbus, Coach Carmack and the team talked about setting new goals for the game. Knowing the history of Colonial teams at the event, they tried to keep it simple.
“Our goal was to complete for a full 60 minutes at regionals and take each challenge independently building from the last,” Carmack explained.
The Wildkats’ more physical style allowed them to control large portions of play. In total, the Wildkats held three leads during the game. The main issue, however, is playing like that leaves open space and tired bodies on the ice. UPenn was able to jump on this in each period and by the third the floodgates opened.
Just before the first intermission and with his team trailing, Will Torgerson fed Hayden Stephan to tie the game at one each. Kentucky responded quickly in the second period with a shorthanded goal 120 second in and followed up with another at the 12:20 mark.
There’s an old saying in hockey that a two goal lead is the most dangerous position a team can be in. If the leading team lets off the gas, the lead gets cut in half and from that point it’s too difficult to get going again. Putting that theory to the test, Connor Blend made it 2-3 just over a minute after Kentucky scored, off an assist from Spencer Tuohy. Less than a minute later and just over halfway through the period Torgerson found the back of the net, assisted by Tuohy and Matthew Keller, to tie the game back up.
While Kentucky got one more lead one minute into the third, Penn took control in the final ten minutes. Torgerson and Stephan both scored their second goals of the game to give the Quakers it’s first lead of the contest. With time running out, Torgerson sealed it with an empty netter with just over 50 seconds to play.
Coach Carmack knows his players deserved this result. This was the program’s first win at regionals since 2006 and each player had put in the effort to make that happen.
“To win the first game was an absolute accomplishment and testament to the work effort the team has put forward,” he said. “We as coaches couldn’t have been prouder of the way the team stuck together, going down (three times) and eventually getting back into the lead in the third. True teamwork.”
The Quakers’ next opponent was a fellow conference champion. #3 North Carolina State narrowly missed receiving an auto-bid to the National Tournament but made up for it by winning a fourth straight Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League championship.
Note: Only one other program in the southeast region’s four current conferences has ever won four-straight titles; that being The College of New Jersey (2017-2020)
The Icepacks’ high ranking allotted them a bye from Friday’s games. However, they along with the three other highest seeded teams all lost their first games in Round Two. The biggest hurdle NC State faced in their Saturday game came in the form of goalie Xander Kostelnik. The North Yarmouth, Maine native made critical saves all game, including shutouts in both the first and third period.
The 2021-22 CSCHC Best Goaltender Winner played a combined 26 minutes where his team held a one goal lead during those critical periods. Coach Carmack wasn’t surprised to see what his goalie could do after watching him for two seasons.
“Once he’s out there with an opportunity to complete he’s an absolute gamer,” Carmack said. “He always has the ability to make a clutch save anytime… He’s left it all out there game after game this season.”.
On offense, UPenn started the game in control and outshot the ACCHL squad 16-13 on goal. Blend found Tuohy six minutes in for his first goal of the weekend. Later in the period Matt Weinsier doubled the lead off an assist from Alex Damelio.
After the break, it was the Quakers’ turn to stumble after being up 2-0. After a battle to start the period, NC State scored twice in a span under two minutes. Cole Suplee was called for interference not long after the first goal, allowing the Icepack to tap in a second on a power play. The Colonial Cup champions fought back and a long drive by Tuohy down the middle let to a phenomenal spinning back pass to Ethan Cohen. The nearly open net goal put UPenn back on top but only for five minutes before NC State tied it again.
The back-and-forth third period saw a total of 32 shots on net between the two teams but only one goal. Torgerson’s fourth of the weekend, assisted by Cohen and Tyler McGoldrick, came three minutes in. The team held on and advanced, becoming the first-ever Colonial team to ever win multiple games at a regional tournament.
With two wins under their belt, Penn entered Sunday’s game against #7 Indiana University. The Hoosiers had already played a competitive game on Friday against #14 University of North Carolina before cruising past #6 Penn State University the previous day. Against UPenn, the TSCHL playoff champion gave the Colonial Cup holders little breathing room. Despite only being down 1-0 after 20 minutes, the Quakers’ fortunes did not improve. Three goals in the second period mirrored Penn’s own performance against TCNJ in the championship game.
“We just kind of ran into one of those games where things don’t go your way,” Coach Carmack explained. “Had our opportunities, but nothing dropped, I think they had (2) power play goals and short handed one off a major penalty in the first which kind of took the wind out of the sails.”
The game wrapped up 6-0 with Indiana heading to St. Louis for the National Tournament later this month.
ACHA Southeast Regional Results
Round One – Friday, Feb 25th
#11 Ohio State University (5) vs. #10 Rider University (4) (OT)
#12 University of Delaware (3) vs. #9 University of Cincinnati (6)
#13 University of Pennsylvania (6) vs. #8 University of Kentucky (4)
#14 University of North Carolina (2) vs. #7 Indiana University (3)
Round Two – Saturday, Feb 26th
#13 University of Pennsylvania (4) vs. #3 North Carolina State University (3)
#11 Ohio State University (1) vs. #4 Miami University (2)
#9 University of Cincinnati (6) vs. #5 Rowan University (1)
#7 Indiana University (4) vs. #6 Penn State University (0)
Round Three- Sunday, Feb 27th
#11 Ohio State University (5) vs. #9 University of Cincinnati (3)
#13 University of Pennsylvania (0) vs. #7 Indiana University (6)
The Colonial States College Hockey Conference would like to thank the Tri-State Collegiate Hockey League (The T) for their hospitality in hosting the regional tournament. We all wish Ohio State University and Indiana University the best of luck at the National Championships this coming weekend.