William Tennent Panthers Legendary Varsity Ice Hockey Head Coach
By Ross Porubski
Youth Hockey Info
THE END OF WILLIAM TENNENT PANTHERS ICE HOCKEY
It’s the 1983-84 season and first year coach Bernie O’Neill is wondering what’s happened to the program. There are only nine skaters and one goalie. Coach O’Neill is hoping for a rebuild with a skeleton crew. “Last year… was the first time we didn’t finish above .700,” O’Neill said. “We’ve lost a lot of talent in the last few years and last season showed the results of it.” O’Neill served as assistant coach for the past 7 years before his rookie opportunity this year, the Panthers will compete in the Freedom conference of the Suburban Hockey League. Amazingly the Panthers managed to complete the season with an (11-8-1) record, good for second place and a playoff berth. Tennent faced Council Rock, who finished with a very similar (13-6-2) record but played in the much stronger Liberty Conference. The Panthers were unable to match CR’s offensive power and were promptly eliminated from post season play.
The 1984-85 season marked the end of William Tennent’s Club Ice Hockey program. With several of the past season’s players graduating, and diminished interest the club was unable to register new skaters. Panther’s Ice Hockey folded.
A NEW BEGINNING AND A NEW LEAGUE
Joe Paul, William Tennent Head Coach
New ideas and interest, a different philosophy and a whole new direction. Thanks to Ted Hannefeld, and Barbara Shaw, High School ice hockey is back for the 1985-86 season. With the revitalized program back in action, the new board sought out a head coach, enter, Joe Paul. Joe and his wife, Donna moved back into the Warminster area from Waterbury CT in 1984, at the time Joe was not coaching. Leading up to Joe’s tenure ice hockey at William Tennent was not very popular, interest dwindled among student athletes, and it seemed as though there was more going on outside of school which lead to students finding trouble instead of being involved in extracurricular team-oriented sports activities. “I’ve been involved with hockey since I was 8 years old,” Paul said. “I like the opportunities that sports give the kids to compete, and I love the sport of hockey itself. I’ll do almost anything I can to help the kids.” Joe played youth hockey for the Wintersport Royals and played in High School for Lower Moreland before transferring to La Salle College High School where he played his junior, and senior years for the Explorers.
The Panthers are back with a new board, a new coach, 18 skaters and are slated to play in a completely different league. A decision was made to begin a brand-new competing league, the “Northern Scholastic Hockey League”, (NSHL) and to transition out of the SHSHL. The off-shoot startup was devised by Ray Reinl, often referred to as the “Grandfather of High School Ice Hockey” for founding the SHSHL in 1972, Reinl, the owner of Wintersport Arena took the reins as emeritus. Also joining him are league president Bob Houck, and Gina O’Gara. The competing league featured Archbishop Wood, Vikings, Abington Ghosts, North Penn Knights, La Salle Explorers, and newly resurrected William Tennent. The new coach finished the season with a (4-8-0) record and the proverbial ball was rolling. Joe’s young team was just getting started and the foundation had been laid for great things to come.
WORST TO FIRST
With a solid core having been formed from the previous season Joe Paul’s 1986-87 Panthers took off blazing their way to a (13-3-0) NSHL regular season title. The crowning achievement was a three-game sweep of the Abington Ghosts, earning the William Tennent Panthers the league championship and the NSHL Cup. “My wife, Donna, helped me with my game plan,” Paul said. “she told me to play the third line of offense and play my center back on defense and let him take the body. That’s what I did, and it worked.” Tennent heads into the Flyers Cup Tournament preliminary’s firing on all cylinders. The Panthers met up with the always strong Central Bucks East Blazers beating them by a score of 6-3. Next on the docket was a matchup with William Penn where they skated away with a 6-4 victory earning them their ticket to the semi-finals to play the Malvern Prep Friars. Malvern won the game by a score of 10-3 but the Tennent Panthers didn’t have anything to be ashamed of as it would be Malvern who ultimately won the Flyers Cup beating Conestoga.
WILLIAM TENNENT’S PANTHERS ARE MAKING A POWER MOVE
It’s the 1987-88 season, and the Panthers are making some noise. With almost the same exact regular season record as the previous, William Tennent finished with the best regular season record (12-2-1). They faced off against Glenn Meyers Viking squad in the best of 5 NSHL championship series. Wood won the series in a 3-game sweep with a dramatic game three 5-4 win two mins and seven seconds into the second sudden-death overtime period. Though the league championship loss was a big letdown, the Panther’s skaters had an opportunity to deliver with an appearance in the Flyer’s Cup Tournament for the “President’s Cup”, (the eventual Class AA Flyers Cup trophy). Tennent opened the single game elimination playoff against Central Bucks East at George Washington Rink, defeating the Blazers 6-3. Next the Panthers met up against Father Judge at Face Off Circle in the semi-finals where the winner would move on to play the Monsignor Bonner Friars for the President’s Cup. William Tennent shut out the Crusaders 6-0 moving them one step closer to the championship. Back to George Washington Rink, the red-hot Panther’s skaters beat Bonner by a score of 5-3 crowning them Class AA Flyers Cup Champions. “I knew at the beginning of the tournament that the kids could do it,” Tennent coach Joe Paul said. “When we play with emotion, we can beat anybody. We didn’t play with that emotion in the league championship series with Wood, and we lost. We have it back now.” And they would need it, because the punched their ticket to the state finals at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena, otherwise known as “The Igloo”. William Tennent faced off against western PA’s Class AA Penguins Cup Champion Alderdice Dragons. The Panthers skaters didn’t have any problems as they won easily by a final score of 5-3. Joe Paul and the William Tennent Panthers have secured their first Pennsylvania State High School Ice Hockey Class AA Championship.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
It’s 1988-89 and Panther’s Ice Hockey is stronger than ever. Fresh off of a Class AA Flyers Cup, and Pennsylvania State Cup Championship, the same roster returns almost entirely intact from the previous season to launch an all-out assault on Southeastern PA High School hockey. The Philadelphia Inquirer projected Tennent Varsity to be the odds-on favorite in NSHL competition and it turns out they were right. They breezed through the regular season with an almost perfect record, (14-0-1) their only blemish was a tie in a cross-over non-league game to Conestoga. The Panthers won the regular season championship easily before moving onto league finals against Archbishop Wood. Tennent wasted little time savoring their accomplishment before beating the Vikings in a 3-game sweep for ownership of their second NSHL Championship. “We were excited and all, but there wasn’t a wild celebration in the locker room after the final game,” said William Tennent head coach Joe Paul. “Our goal wasn’t to win the league regular season, or the league title, or even the Flyers Cup. We want to win the state championship, and so far, we are right where we have to be to achieve that goal.” Tennent won game one against Egan 7-2, then lost game two to Central Bucks East 8-5, and next won the semi-finals against Malvern Prep 5-3 before moving onto the championship against Conestoga and winning with a final score of 3-1. Scott Shaw saved 44 of 47 shots against Malvern Prep in the semi-finals, and 40 of 41 in their championship triumph over Conestoga. With the pedal to the metal all season and through post, the Panther’s ran out of gas in the state championship, losing to Meadville at the Igloo 4-0. Scott Shaw put on another huge performance saving 39 of 43 shots but it wasn’t enough as they came up short. “I said at the beginning of the season that our goal as a team was to win the Flyers Cup,” said Paul. “And when we beat Conestoga, we accomplished our goal. We went into the final game against Meadville wanting very badly to prove that we were the best team in Pennsylvania, but sometimes you don’t get the breaks you need to win the game. I have no regrets about losing to a better hockey team,” added Paul. “The kids gave it their best effort, and there is absolutely nothing for this team to be ashamed of.”
Panther’s goalie, Scott Shaw worn out after state finals
WELCOME TO THE 90’s!
It’s 1989-90 and it’s out with the… Well let’s just say the NSHL folded, William Tennent, and the Archbishop Wood Vikings are returning to their roots. William Tennent, the perennial NSHL powerhouse has moved back into the SHSHL where they will skate a regular season schedule including 2 games each against all divisional SHSHL teams. Additionally, there is now a New Jersey sub-section of the SHSHL which will also compete in the league. The league has expanded and gotten even stronger, and more competitive. “The change in leagues is a big plus for our program,” William Tennent coach Joe Paul said. “Instead of playing teams of lesser ability, with the exception of Wood, we’ll play teams like Council Rock, Central Bucks, and Germantown Academy, along with Wood. I’m excited about the league, in general, and the facility, (NSHL games were played at Wintersport).”
The Faceoff Circle in Warminster is the home rink of the SHSHL. The league will run under a new format this season. There will be a Pennsylvania Conference with the six teams west of the Delaware River and a New Jersey Conference for the five teams east of the river. The Pennsylvania Conference has Archbishop Wood, Central Bucks, Cheltenham, Council Rock, Germantown Academy, and William Tennent. The New Jersey Conference teams are Bishop Eustace, Cherokee, Cherry Hill East, Eastern Regional, and Washington Township.
In their inaugural return back into the SHSHL, strange things were about to happen almost like the stars were aligning for William Tennent. The usual suspects playing for lead position in the league found themselves in trouble, where Central Bucks East moved on from Steve Richards, and Tom Coles because of graduation, and while both Council Rock, and Germantown Academy suffered key injuries, William Tennent got a boost. The Panthers won the SHSHL regular season after coming down to the last game against Council Rock to determine who would take ownership of the best record, Tennent (12-2-1) won 5-1 and though Tennent tied CR for the best record in the league, the tie breaker went to Tennent due to total “goals for” between the two teams in their two meetings. CR won the first matchup 4-1, and Tennent squeaked it out with a tie breaker by one goal in the 5-1 win. Tennent then proceeded to sweep Central Bucks East two games to none, 5-2 and 3-2 accordingly for the SHSHL Title. Tennent went onto the Flyers cup where they won their first two quarter-final games 11-0 vs West Chester East and 3-2 vs Central Bucks East. Tennent won their semi-final game against Monsignor Bonner 5-4 moving onto the Flyers Cup final for the 2nd time in 2 years. Tennent never really got anything going against Malvern’s suffocating defense, Malvern won the game by a score of 11-2. “I feel we had three premier players in Lance LaTare, Paul Gregg, and Mike Lang. But Malvern, it seemed had at least six premier players. We were beaten in every aspect of the game. I scouted that team four times and those kids never quite looked that good.” Paul said. “But believe me, to shut us down the way they did, they were damn good.”
1990 Flyers Cup AAA Final
TENNENT EXPERIENCES A YOUTH MOVEMENT
The 1990-91 season is what you might refer to as a down year, inevitable turnover, the staples are gone it’s time for a new guard. While the Panther’s youth fought strong, (10-4-1) they came in 3rd behind undefeated regular season winner Germantown Academy and very close second Council Rock Indians. The Panthers lost to Council Rock in semifinal action and did not make it into the Flyers Cup Tournament after losing their qualifier to Eastern Regional. “I’m very satisfied with the way the season went. We finished the regular season 10-4-1 and I thought 8-7 would be a great year. And we made it to the semifinal, and I really couldn’t see us doing that at the beginning of the season. It’s been a long, frustrating season. The last six years I’ve had real quality teams, and this was pretty much a rebuilding year. The kids were great, tough, and most of them will be back next season.”
In the 1991-92 William Tennent, (13-2-0) went neck and neck with Council Rock all season long but ultimately Council Rock would win the regular season with a (15-0-0) record. The only losses on Tennent’s record were both to CR in regular season play, but that wouldn’t deter the Panthers coach or his skaters. William Tennent and Council Rock would meet again in the SHSHL finals for a three-game series. In Game 1 the Council Rock squad got off to an early 1-0 lead before the Panthers evened up the deficit. Ironically Council Rock outshot William Tennent but Chad Melnick wouldn’t budge. Tennent came back and outscored Rock when pretty much every shot they had taken went in. William Tennent won 5-2 . In the second game Tennent was winning 2-0 until late in the third period when Council Rock came back and tied the score with two goals in the last four mins. With the game tied at 2, they went into overtime and Council Rock won the game with 2:38 left to play, forcing a decisive third game . Game three would be much like game 2. Both teams playing tight defensively all game long, it would end in a 1-1 tie forcing OT again for the second consecutive time. The game would come down to CR’s goalie losing sight of the puck during a scramble in the crease, Dave Prasch pushed the unattended disk into the net with five seconds left to play giving William Tennent the SHSHL championship win. “I’m not really sure of all of the things that happened this week, and that we’re in the Flyers Cup Finals,” William Tennent coach Joe Paul said. This surely isn’t a Cinderella situation because we are a very good hockey team, but I’m sure we surprised a lot of people by beating Council Rock in the SHSHL Finals. Our game plan going into the final game with Rock was no secret,” Paul said. “We had to be very patient, limit our chances offensively, and try to put them in a situation where they might become frustrated.” William Tennent went on play Monsignor Bonner in the Flyers Cup final series. The Friars swept the Panthers with a 6-1 game one win, and a 3-1 win to take the series.
In the 1992-93 season William Tennent came out swinging, looking to fiercely defend the SHSHL title. Considered by league pundits to finish second behind Germantown Academy, with perennial powerhouse CR a close third, but the Panther’s had different ideas. Turns out, Tennent did exactly as they set out to, finishing the season with the league’s best record at (16-1-1) to once again reign regular season champs. Tennent easily won their playoff bid against Eastern Regional with an 8-4 win advancing to the league finals for the second straight year. The Panthers faced Germantown after they defeated Council Rock 2-0 in their elimination playoff round. William Tennent met up with GA and played the full three games in the series winning a hard-fought battle to take the SHSHL Title for the second straight year. “Our ultimate goal is to win the Flyers Cup, but winning the league championship was nice,” coach Joe Paul said of his Panthers, who beat the Patriots two games to one in the three-game league championship series. “I had to admit, a smile crossed my face when the game was over.” The Panthers moved onto the Flyers Cup Tournament where they faced off and won against the Bishop Egan Eagles, 5-3. Coincidentally the same hard-fought battle between GA and Tennent would carry over into the Flyers Cup Tournament in the semi-finals where they would meet again but this time Germantown would best the Panthers 5-3 thus eliminating them from advancing.
THE END OF AN ERA FOR WILLIAM TENNENT COACHING ICON?
The 1993-94 season had weather problems, and that’s an understatement. The relentless series of snow and ice storms did major damage to the SHSHL schedule. Various postponements and cancellations left league officials with no other choice but to restructure the playoff format. William Tennent rolled through this crazy season with the same record as GA, (12-2-4) but Tennent had a better goal differential between the two in both of their regular season games leading to Germantown being placed into third place while Tennent took over sole possession of second behind regular season winner, Council Rock. The Panthers faced off in the league semi-final series against Germantown Academy, where they saw their season conclude after losing game one by the score of 6-0, and game two, 7-6. The series defeat eliminated the Panthers and denied them the opportunity to 3-PEAT as SHSHL Champions. Consequently, due to the modified Flyers Cup format they were eliminated from the tournament as well. “We were playing extremely well going into the playoffs, and I was confident that we could continue playing at that level,” said William Tennent coach Joe Paul. “I just wish I could have kept my finger on the hot button all through the playoffs.”
After almost a full decade, coach Paul had decided it was time to step down. Replacing him would be his understudy, former player and team captain, Mike Lang. Lang had been coach Paul’s assistant for several years and was prepared to transition into the head coaching role. Joe Paul enjoyed almost 10 years of many successes including a combined 105 wins, 23 losses, & 10 ties in the regular season, 6 best record season titles, 5 post season league titles, as well as one AAA, one AA Flyers Cup title, and one AA Pennsylvania State Cup title. The Panthers made a finals appearance at the Flyers Cup Finals, 4 times during his tenure. Not including post season, or Flyers Cup statistics, Joe Paul is the winningest coach in William Tennent Ice Hockey history.
SHOW ME THE HARDWARE!!!!
- 1985-86: 4|8|0 NSHL Regular season record
- 1986-87: 12|2|1 NSHL Regular-season champion, NSHL League champion
- 1987-88: 12|2|1 NSHL Regular-season champion, Flyers Cup Class AA champion, Pennsylvania State Cup champion
- 1988-89: 14|0|1 NSHL Regular-season champion, NSHL League champion, Flyers Cup Class AAA champion
- 1989-90: 12|2|1 SHSHL Regular-season champion, SHSHL League champion, Flyers Cup AAA runner-up
- 1990-91: 10|4|1 SHSHL Regular season record
- 1991-92: 13|2|0 SHSHL League champion, Flyers Cup AAA runner-up
- 1992-93: 16|1|1 SHSHL League champion
- 1993-94: 12|2|4 SHSHL Regular season record
A RETURN TO THE HELM
It’s the 1997-98 season, so “out with the kinda new, and in with the ol…. wait, what?”
Mike Lang has decided to step down as William Tennent head coach, and Joe Paul announces his return. After only 3 seasons behind the bench, Mike Lang has made the decision to call it a career and move on from High School Ice Hockey coaching. Who would replace him was obvious, Joe had last coached in 1994 and felt as though he was the right man for the job and so did Tennent’s board who didn’t think twice about their decision. After all it is Joe who originally rebuilt the program in the early 80’s from the ground up. Newly appointed head coach and president, Joe Paul stepped back behind the bench for round two of his High School coaching career, it took some time to re-acclimate himself and get the team conditioned to his philosophy and gameplan but in a mostly uneventful first year the Panthers squad completed the season with a (10-10-2) fourth place record but did make the playoffs. The powerful Patriots squad didn’t waste any time as Germantown Academy eliminated the Panthers from playoff and Flyers Cup contention. It wasn’t necessarily the comeback tour that Paul had imagined but there were bright spots and something big happened. The Centennial school board voted to provide $46,000 in funding to sponsor varsity and junior-varsity hockey teams at William Tennent for the 1998-99 season making them the only public school district in southeastern PA to fund the sport. “I’m thrilled,” said Joe Paul president of Tennent’s ice hockey club and head coach of its varsity squad. This is a major, major development for high school hockey in the area, I really applaud the school board for taking the stand that it did.” Paul said board member John Priadka, whose 13-year-old son participates in Tennent’s ice hockey program, had been a “driving force” behind the district’s decision.
Joe Paul discusses funding and accepting ice hockey as a school sponsored sport on “Intelligencer Monthly”
The 1998-99 season begins, and William Tennent Panthers Ice Hockey is officially a school sponsored student sports program. The Panthers have a young group of players, especially on defense. The progress made from last season will depend on how well they’ve adapted to Joe Paul’s system. Tennent’s one and only goal is to beat the defending SHSHL champion Germantown Academy Patriots to end their 94-game unbeaten streak. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t happen as they had one opportunity to solve them and wound up in a 3-2 loss. “As far as the standings go, the loss is no big deal,” Paul said. “But, sure, we wanted to be the team to snap GA’s streak.” It wasn’t for a lack of trying either, the Panther’s pounded GA goalie, Dan Angeline but to no avail. “We threw everything but the kitchen sink at him the last period,” Paul said. “We had three or four point-blank opportunities in the last five minutes of the game, and we couldn’t put it in the net. We had our chances.” Tennent improved their record to a much better (16-7-0) from last season’s final season mark which was barely above .500 putting them squarely in 3rd place. In the American division playoffs, the Panthers faced off against Central Bucks East in the first round, besting them with a 5-1 decision and moving Tennent to the semi-finals to face Council Rock in the best of 2 goal differential series to decide the winner. Council Rock wound up coming out on top and eliminated Tennent from post season play and from the Flyers Cup Tournament.
Back to the drawing board for the 1999-00 season. Coach Paul lost a few seniors but on paper this seasons Panther’s squad looked to have measured up against the likes of Germantown Academy, and Council Rock but not to be had. Instead, with an (8-13-1) record Tennent missed their opportunity losing one more game than Central Bucks East and were eliminated from the SHSHL post season picture. Coach Paul redirected his attention to the Flyers Cup Tournament hoping for a shot at Class AA qualifiers. In order for Tennent to move onto qualifiers they first had to play Central Bucks West in a two game differential series. Tennent won and punched their ticket back into the Class AA Flyers Cup Tournament, and for the first time in almost 8 years Joe Paul’s William Tennent Panthers are back. Tennent’s berth had them facing off against the Cheltenham Panthers. Tennent won game one convincingly with a 6-0 route, and much like Joe’s 1992 three game SHSHL championship series against the Council Rock Indians, this one would go the full 3 games as well. In game two William Tennent and Cheltenham battled to a regulation 2-2 tie before losing in OT. The third game had to go the same way as 1992, right? Kinda. “The final game went into quadruple OT and lasted over three hours before Tennent eliminated Cheltenham with the game winner,” Tennent coach Joe Paul said. “Three games in three nights is a lot to begin with, but then there seemed to be no end to the last game in the series. I was impressed with my team’s heart and desire, to keep plugging away in that final game.” Next the up Holy Ghost Prep in quarter-final action. Tennent kept and held a 3-2 lead through regulation to defeat the Firebirds. One game away from returning to Flyers Cup, Joe Paul’s Panthers had to defeat the Eastern Regional Vikings in the semi-finals. The game was close but Eastern came out on top 4-3 to end the Panther’s battle back to Flyers Cup success. In the end coach Paul was proud of his team for reaching beyond their failure of missing the SHSHL post season and making a great run through the Flyers Cup Tournament.
This would be coach Joe Paul’s final appearance as coach for the William Tennent Panther’s. Changes were taking place within the program, new ideas were being introduced, different minds had different opinions and in the end the decision was made to move on. His final three-year record is a combined 34 wins, 21 losses, & 3 ties in the regular season. Coach Paul also saw through William Tennent’s hockey program finally becoming recognized as an official district sponsored school sport. An accomplishment no other southeastern Pa school district has ever done to this day.
- 1997-98: 10|10|2
- 1998-99: 16|7|0
- 1999-00: 8|13|1
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- Don McKee | Philadelphia Inquirer
- Mike Missanelli | Philadelphia Inquirer
- Gary Miles | Philadelphia Inquirer
- Tim Panaccio | Philadelphia Inquirer
- Scott Huff | Philadelphia Inquirer
- Rick O’Brien | Philadelphia Inquirer
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