Penn Hills players capture bronze at ball-hockey championships
Penn Hills players made up a full 20 percent of the U-20 men's national team in the 2014 World Junior Ball Hockey Championships.
Forward Matt Kiesel, 19; goalie Dan Ujcic, 20; defenseman Kevin Persichetti, 20; and center Vinnie Tumminello, 19, were part of the U-20 team that finished in third place at the championships, held June 24-29 in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Kiesel's brother Jim, 17, played as a forward on the U-18 national team, which also took third place.
All agreed that they had to earn their respect the hard way.
“At first, people were looking at us like we were no good,” Persichetti said.
“No one was even talking to us.”
After the U-20 squad went undefeated through their first five games, players from other nations were a little more chatty, “but it definitely wasn't friendly at first,” Persichetti said.
The group made it onto the national team first through observation by coaches from the American Street Hockey Institute, then by way of a tryout held in December 2013 in Harrisburg, where they competed for spots against other Pittsburgh players as well as players from New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York.
The U-20 coach, first-timer Steve Gregory, coaches a local team, the Pittsburgh Saints/Gods.
Matt Kiesel said many players' biggest adjustment was to the size of the rink — “It's basically an Olympic-sized hockey rink,” he said — and to the ball itself, according to Persichetti.
“It's not like what we use here in the U.S.,” he said. “It's made differently, and it's heavier. I got hit in the calf mid-week, and I can still feel it.”
“It's like getting hit with a bullet,” he said.
All five enjoyed the level of the competition and the style of play.
“The offsides, the icing, and some of the other rules are different between ball hockey and street hockey,” Jim Kiesel said.
Matt Kiesel said he was impressed at the skill of the other participating nations.
“Everyone was really good at what they did, so it was nice to play against that competition,” he said.
“Everyone on those teams is so good, including us,” said Ujcic, who plays goalie for the U-20 squad.
“You can rely on everyone on your team to do their job.”
Back home in Pittsburgh, all five players are part of Greater Pittsburgh Dek Hockey, with a home base at the Olympic Swim & Health Club in Penn Hills.
The Kiesel brothers and Tumminello will have another chance to make the team and compete in the biennial competition: Jim Kiesel will be 19, and even though his brother and Tumminello will be 21, the squad was allotted five slots for 21-year-olds, a trend both hope will continue.
Persichetti said his favorite part of the competition was definitely coming home with the bronze medal after beating Canada.
“It's not gold, but it's hardware,” he said.
Patrick Varine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.