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Ford City skates past Kittanning

| Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Ford City senior Jesse Valasek (right) fights to get in front of Kittanning senior Mike Kelly early in the Sabers' 6-4 win Thursday at the Belmont Complex. (Bill West I Leader Times)
Bill West I Trib Total Media
Ford City freshman Luke Gross (front) separates Kittanning junior Hunter Grafton from the puck during the Sabers' 6-4 win Thursday night at the Belmont Complex.

During the next five-plus months, Kittanning and Ford City's hockey teams might not play in front of a crowd as rowdy as the one they encountered Thursday night during their first preseason action of the year.

Dozens of students from Kittanning and Ford City piled into the Belmont Complex to see the Sabers and the Wildcats square off in the opening game of the Steve Bryan Memorial Belmont Cup, a tournament that honors Bryan, a 1993 Armstrong Central graduate and former player who died in an auto accident in 1998.

Ford City built up an early lead and hung on to win, 6-4, in a contest that does not count toward either team's PIHL record. But the Sabers and Wildcats — and their fan bases — understood that bragging rights hung in the balance.

“We always look forward to the big crowd,” said Ford City senior Jesse Valasek, who finished with three goals and an assist. “You don't usually get those for the games. But maybe now we will after putting on that show.”

Ford City's three other goals belonged to freshmen Luke Gross and Jacob Miller and sophomore Marcus McCall. To see underclassmen thrive in the pressure-packed environment brought a smile to the face of first-year coach Glen Kilgore, who also organized the tournament.

“It really sells (the experience) to new kids in the program,” Kilgore said of the Belmont Cup. “I was telling them that I hoped none of them had the deer-in-the-headlights look because this might be the biggest crowd they play in front of this season.”

Ford City started its dry-land training almost seven weeks ago and also organized a few practices at the Valley Sports Complex — the Belmont Complex installed its ice last week. The offseason effort allowed the offense to look sharp. Junior Eric Lindey and junior John Phelps each had two assists while senior Joe Cippel and sophomore Josh Oliver each registered one.

Senior goaltender Adam Cogley, notified he was starting 30 minutes before game-time, made 25 saves.

Junior Hunter Grafton, sophomore Christian Miller, senior Eli Johns and sophomore Jacob Snyder each scored for Kittanning, which rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game, 3-all, midway through the second period. Miller's goal cut the deficit to one goal two minutes into the third, but Kittanning never came closer.

“You're playing a rivalry game, so it gets a lot of attention,” Kittanning coach Jamie King said. “Otherwise, it's just an early-season game where you sometimes take your lumps.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com.

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