His Florida Atlantic team is a No. 4 seed and he knows little about powerful Hope College and the two other teams in the Owls’ pool at this week’s ACHA DIII National Tournament. But that doesn’t faze head coach Peter Worrell in the least. (Scroll down for the pool breakdown at nationals.)
“We’re optimistic,” he said. “Obviously, we understand that the challenges are going to get bigger. We’re going to face good teams, but we feel we have a fighter’s chance . . . We’ve surprised people all year and hopefully we’ll continue to do so.”
The Owls, ranked No. 7 in the South Region, won four of nine games with No. 1 Central Florida and No. 2 Florida Gulf Coast.
One of their two victories at the DIII Regional, with a trip to nationals on the line, was a stunning 10-4 triumph over No. 6 South Florida after trailing 4-0 early in the first period.
“I honestly don’t care [about the No. 4 seed],” said Worrell. “This time of the year everybody’s good. Every team can beat you and you can beat them. It’s going to be a challenge, but it would be regardless of the seed.”
FAU has not reached the national tournament since the 2004-05 season, so none of his Owls have experience competing at that level.
Worrell, a former National Hockey League player who played the role of enforcer with the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche, says, So what?
“I’ve played in a few national tournaments in juniors,” he pointed out. “I know exactly what’s it’s like. There are going to be big games. That’s what you want as a hockey player, to play in big games in front of rowdy crowds.
“As a team, we can’t let ourselves be taken over by the emotion of the moment. There’s nothing to be gained by taking everything on your shoulders.”
As they have all season, the Owls will look to Robert San (16 goals, 20 assists), Mike Cupolo (20, 7) and Nick Isoldi (11, 10) for offensive leadership. “When they’re all rolling, we’re a formidable team,” said Worrell.
FAU lost its top defenseman and captain, Nick Pacquee, to a fractured wrist in a game with Florida Gulf Coast in late January. “With Joey Petrolia being older and a very competitive player, he has helped out with that,” said Worrell. So, too, has John Torrents, a veteran Owl.
“In [Pacquee’s] absence,” added Worrell, “the group has coalesced together.”
But, he said, success in Michigan will start with goalie Bobby Ramos. “We need him to play at a high level,” the coach said. “If he plays his best hockey, he’ll be as good a goalie as we’ll see.”
He’ll be tested right off the bat when the Owls meet No. 1 seed Hope in both team’s tournament opener Wednesday night at 7 o’clock EST.
The Flying Dutchmen, who defeated Central Florida 5-1 in January and won the Michigan Collegiate Hockey Conference title, placed four players on the All-Conference First Team: forwards Chris Kunnen (22 goals, 34 assists), Kevin Deane 26 goals), defenseman Will Guerin and goalkeeper David Nowicki (1.68 goals against, .930 save percentage).
Deane was also named the conference’s most valuable player and Hope’s Chris Van Timmeren was honored as coach of the year.
“We understand that Hope is a very talented team,” said Worrell. “ . . . Again, we can’t say that we know what they bring. But they don’t know anything about us.
“If we don’t allow them to dictate the play, we’ll have a chance to have a good hockey game and come out with a win.”
The pools, with teams listed by seed, are:
College of the Canyons (Calif.)
Saginaw Valley State (Mich.)
California University of Pennsylvania
Florida Gulf Coast
Farmingdale State (N.Y.)
Robert Morris (Pa.)