Freeport, Kittanning renew burgeoning hockey rivalry
TribLIVE Sports Videos
It may not be Penguins versus Flyers, but there is a rivalry-like element to Freeport-Kittanning hockey games.
The local matchup is built on mutual respect.
“It's two teams in close proximity, so it kind of becomes a rivalry,” Freeport coach Dave Hepler said. “It's more of a fan thing than for the players.”
All of those pleasantries will be put on hold for at least one night, when No. 3 seed Freeport (16-5-1) takes on No. 6 Kittanning (13-8-1) in the PIHL Penguins Cup Class A quarterfinals Thursday night at the Belmont Complex.
“Almost every kid has played on amateur teams with those guys. Probably six or seven of our guys have played with the same number of kids over there,” Kittanning coach Jamie King said. “You want to win no matter who you play.”
The Section 3 foes skated to a 1-1 tie in November before Freeport got the best of the Wildcats on Feb. 14, 5-3.
“I guess the biggest deal will probably be that we're the home team,” Hepler said. “We get to make the last line change.”
That change could help Freeport obtain the matchups it's looking for. Hoping to exploit those matchups will be a host of 30-plus-point scorers for Freeport. Junior forward Cole Hepler leads the team in points with 38 (22 goals, 16 assists) in only 18 games. He missed the early part of the season due to injury.
Senior forward Greg Newman has 12 goals and 23 assists, and freshman forward Michael Frazetta has 17 goals and 13 assists.
But topping Kittanning will have to be as much about shutting down the high-scoring pair of Hunter Grafton and Christian Miller. Heading up that task is senior defenseman John Bird, who routinely faces the opposing team's top line.
“They're definitely a solid line. (Grafton and Miller) are both very talented. I've played against them for years,” Bird said. “It's going to be a huge part of the game.”
Though a solid defenseman, Bird is no stranger to putting up points. He's scored three goals and 12 assists through 20 games.
“I'm just trying to put pucks on net and maybe get someone else to put home a rebound,” Bird said.
Kittanning played some tough games down the final stretch of the regular season. The team hopes that helps its situation, even though Belmont also is its home ice.
“This year, we've had one of the hardest schedules,” King said. “We've kind of been in playoff mode. We're hoping that carries over.”
Another thing King hopes carries over is the 1-2 punch delivered by Grafton and Miller. Miller led Class A with 82 points, including 45 goals. Grafton is not far behind with 81 points (38 goals, 43 assists).
“We know that we have to base our performance off another. It's been that way all year,” Grafton said. “I think I'm lucky to have him on my line. I wouldn't pick another player to have on my line.”
While Grafton and Miller have been filling up nets, the job of keeping them out has fallen on senior Cam Langham.
“We definitely know if there's a good opportunity for the other team, he's going to stop it and turn the play up-ice for us,” Grafton said.
Langham has a 12-5-1 record, with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
“We just have to pay solid and play smart,” King said. “It's understanding it's not just the play in the third (period), but one or two plays in the first period could make the difference.”
Dave Yohe is a freelance writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Plum students protest orders to keep mum about sex cases
- Injured Penguins optimistic about returning next season
- Coach Johnston trying to figure out why Penguins ‘fell off a cliff’
- Crosby, Malkin want to remain in Pittsburgh
- McKees Rocks council president arrested after SWAT standoff
- Pirates notebook: Wainwright injury doesn’t sway Hurdle on DH
- Behind starter Liriano, Pirates complete sweep of Diamondbacks
- Counselors available at Hempfield after crash kills student
- Washington’s Shelton grows into big role, looks forward to draft
- Forbes Avenue jeweler’s embedded sidewalk sign safely slides out to make way for Pittsburgh Playhouse project
- Oak Ridge couple transforms 1820 house into quaint bed and breakfast