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Pine-Richland hockey team on a roll after early-season woes

| Monday, Nov. 26, 2012,
Christopher Horner
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review Pine-Richland's Zach Richey deflects a shot on Gateway goalie Tyler Perhac during their game Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 at Ice Connection.

Pine-Richland hockey coach Mike Bagnato didn't get hung up on his team's early results.

The Rams stayed the course. They're rewarding Bagnato's patience by playing like he knew they were capable of.

“Our record really wasn't there, but I thought we played very well in a lot of those games,” Bagnato said of preseason exhibitions, an 0-3 showing in the St. Margaret tournament and a PIHL regular season-opening loss to Bishop Canevin.

“I knew if we played like that, we'd have our share of success.”

Injuries plagued the Rams in October, particularly to many of their older players. As a result, younger players were given more prominent roles and valuable experience. Bagnato said nine junior varsity players have made cameos for the varsity program.

And with Pine-Richland nearly back to full health, the Rams are better off for it. Pine-Richland is heading into an important stretch of three games in eight days — all against quality teams — that begins next Monday.

The Rams will carry a three-game winning streak into Kiski Area.

“More important than the wins,” said Bagnato, “we're playing very, very well.”

Bagnato was arguably more impressed with a 2-1 loss to Bishop Canevin on Oct. 29 than he was with the three victories that followed. Calling it “one of the best high school games I've been a part of,” Bagnato was pleased his team went toe-to-toe with a program that won the 2011 Class AA Penguins Cup and is still undefeated this season.

“I came out of that knowing that if we play like that, we'll fare quite well,” Bagnato said.

Bagnato expected his team would fare well this season knowing it returned a roster almost exclusively of experienced juniors and seniors. Only one sophomore is on the roster and a handful of freshmen have been called up from the junior varsity team.

Whereas Pine-Richland had a younger team the past two years, the group jelled via its late-season run last season. After a 4-6-1 start, the Rams won nine of their final 13, including advancing to the Penguins Cup Class AA semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion West Allegheny.

Thirteen players are back from that team, including seven who are in their third season of varsity play — captain Zach Richey, alternate captain Dillon Kessy, defensemen Nick Jenkins and Kyle Cunningham, forwards Andrew Vislosky and Ryan Cole and goalie Brendan Bagnato.

Other seniors on the roster include alternate captain Will Burgman, defenseman Michael Oakes and forwards Drew Berkhoudt and Tyler Mikita.

“The biggest thing is the experience that they have,” said Mike Bagnato, who is Brendan's father. “We were one game away from Consol last year, and the younger guys have also stepped up and been really good complements.”

Heading into the week, Richey was third in PIHL Class AA in points (12) and tied for second in goals (eight). Kessy ranked tied for fifth with 11 points, and Cole's seven assists were tied for third in the classification. Bagnato's 2.40 goals-against average was also among the Class AA leaders.

“I'm not one of those guys who likes to make predictions, but I like to think that with what we have that we'll be in the hunt at the end,” Mike Bagnato said.

“We're not getting a lot of attention right now — and that's kind of how I like it.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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