|The logo for the 1992 ACHA National Tournament at the Ice Pavilion. The first seven ACHA tournaments used identical logo designs, swapping out only the host's logo and color scheme, as well as the year of course. Delaware began the current practice of unique logos for each season in 1999.|
Non-varsity hockey through the first 20 years of the Icers' existence was characterized by rules inconsistencies, a scattered collection of volatile conferences and (for two seasons, anyway) competing national championship tournaments. That all changed on April 20, 1991 when the American Collegiate Hockey Association was established.
Of the fifteen individuals who had a hand in the ACHA's founding, none would subsequently impact the organization quite like Penn State's Joe Battista and Al Murdoch, the man in charge of Iowa State hockey for the last 42 years. Both would also play integral roles in the first-ever ACHA national championship tournament, which was held - for the only time - at the Ice Pavilion from February 26-29, 1992.
The tournament format was pretty simple. Eight teams were invited and divided into four-team pools of the 1st, 4th, 5th and 8th seeds on one side, and the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th seeds on the other. The tournament's first three days were a round robin within each pool. On day four, the pool winners played for the national championship, while the pool runners-up played for third place. Stacked up on the fourth-seeded Icers' side of the tournament: No. 1 Michigan-Dearborn, No. 5 Ohio and No. 8 Navy. No. 2 North Dakota State, No. 3. Iowa State, No. 6 Eastern Michigan and No. 7 Arizona made up the opposite pool.
On paper, PSU's first game, against Ohio, should have been close. On the ice, it wasn't. The Icers rolled up a 6-0 advantage (31-12 in shots) through two periods and cruised home to a 7-1 win that included a Chris Cervellero hat trick and two goals from Ross Cowan, Cervellero's teammate both at PSU and with the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers. Despite the fireworks, most credited the defense with the win.
"It was our best defensive effort all season, especially by the forwards," said senior co-captain [Mike] Messner.The win was a significant body blow in what was already a burgeoning rivalry. Earlier in the season, OU beat PSU 5-4 in overtime to hand the Icers their first-ever opening-round loss in the Nittany Lion Invitational Tournament, the four-team showcase played at the Ice Pavilion from 1982 through 2006. The ACHA tournament win, though, gave Penn State an 8-7 lead in the all-time series with the Bobcats.
"We're real pleased with the way we dominated the game," Battista said. "I don't think they ever had a chance."
|Junior forward Chris Cervellero, a Philadelphia native, scored five goals in the first ACHA National Tournament, including a hat trick against Ohio.|
Navy, which lost 7-2 to Michigan-Dearborn in their opening game, presented a much sterner test for the Icers the next day.
The Midshipmen took a 2-1 first-period lead thanks to some PSU penalty trouble. Navy's Tim Fetsch tied the game at one on the power play, and the Middies' Steve Roberto gave his team the short-lived advantage during a 5-on-3 situation. Cowan stuffed home a rebound two minutes after Roberto scored, and the Icers responded with two more unanswered - from Cowan and senior sniper Andy McLaughlin - in the second to win 4-2.
"We didn't come out as emotionally charged as last night," senior defenseman Geoff Martha said. "We were a little drained. As the game wore on, we got a lot of shots on goal and stayed disciplined."While Martha argued that "it's good to have a close game" in a tournament situation, in hindsight the tight win over the tournament's lowest seed stands out more as a bad omen than anything. The Icers were bombed 8-5 by fellow 2-0 team Michigan-Dearborn in the final game of the group round robin to end their national championship quest.
"I think we persevered," Battista said, "which I think is a good characteristic for a hockey team. I said all along this was going to be a tough battle for us."
PSU actually went up 2-0 early on goals from Cervellero and McLaughlin before the Wolves pumped through five consecutive to lead by three after 40 minutes. The Icers pulled within 6-5 at one point thanks to a pair of Dave Murphy goals and a slapper from defenseman Erik Lightner during a frantic third period that saw 19 PSU shots, but UMD snuffed out the comeback with two late goals.
Being forced into consolation territory gave the Icers an extremely tough draw: the North Dakota State Bison. While largely irrelevant today thanks to funding issues since the mid-1990s, NDSU was at one time the undisputed king of club hockey. They won the U.S. National Collegiate Club Hockey Championship tournament over Alabama-Huntsville in 1985 (UAH's last year of club hockey before elevating to NCAA Division II), and when that tournament dissolved, moved over to the National Invitational Tournament, winning in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1991, They would later add the 1993 and 1994 ACHA championships to arrive at a best-ever eight claimed club national championships, one ahead of PSU's final tally of seven.
But in one of the more underrated Icer victories ever, Penn State rode 35 Andy Dumas saves to a 5-1 thumping of NDSU. Facing a 1-0 deficit in the second period, Brad Russell and Murphy scored 19 seconds apart, followed by third-period markers from Cervellero, Cowan and McLaughlin (on an empty net) to blow the score open.
"The whole game we kept saying, 'Hey, let's win it for the seniors,' " Battista said. "They came in with a win in this building. They are going out of this building with a win."Messner, Martha, McLaughlin, Dumas, and forward Rich Filar had the unique honor of playing their final Ice Pavilion games at nationals and were the quintet of seniors behind that motivation.
"We just decided we didn't want to lose no matter what," Messner said. "Third place feels so much better than fourth."
|Ross Cowan (top left) was named to the 1992 all-tournament second team, while (clockwise from top right) Cervellero, Geoff Martha and Andy Dumas were honorable mentions.|
Top-ranked Dearborn would ultimately get their comeuppance immediately following PSU's consolation win, as Iowa State bested the Wolves 5-3 for the championship. To this day the ACHA's first title is still the only one claimed by association founding father Murdoch, who would eventually have the trophy named in his honor. In 1999, Murdoch briefly possessed a second title, then was ingloriously forced to give "his" cup back four months after a 6-4 title game win over the Icers, when it was discovered that star Cyclone forward Darcy Anderson had played professionally (PSU women's coach Josh Brandwene, incidentally, was the ACHA's president at the time and handed down the order to vacate the 1999 championship).
As an interesting footnote, the 1992 ACHA national championship tournament games did not close Penn State's season. When the Icers were members of the International Collegiate Hockey League from 1984-1992, the conference's playoff took place after the national championships. Perhaps deflated from the failure to defend their home ice two weeks prior, ICHL regular season champ PSU was upset 5-4 by Buffalo State in the first round of the tournament.