Team concept carries Wildcats Pee Wee squad to national recognition
As is often the case with youth hockey teams in the Pittsburgh area, this year's North Pittsburgh Wildcats Pee Wee AA squad came together from a number of different locations.
Thirteen of the 16 players came from other Pee Wee teams within the organization, while three others made the jump from the Squirt AA level.
A couple of others came in from other organizations in Western Pennsylvania.
Head coach Tom Hajdukiewicz said he had a feeling this team had a chance to be pretty successful, and he knew about the different players' talents and abilities.
The key was to incorporate the individual skills into the team concept. The players buying into that concept, he said, has produced a strong start to the 2012-13 season.
“The focus from day one was on team,” Hajdukiewicz said. “John Wooden, the great college basketball coach, said that you cease to be an individual when you join a team. It's hard sometimes for the younger age groups to appreciate that. They want to score goals and get their names in the paper.”
About half of the team members got a jump on the season by playing together on a spring squad that entered a couple of tournaments.
“There is a maturity with this team,” Hajdukiewicz said. “They have welcomed the youngest players and made them feel as much a part of the team as the most senior player. It was quite a jump to this level for the Squirt players. The speed is greater at the Pee Wee level, and while there isn't checking at this level in the United States, there still is a little bit more indirect body contact. The Squirt players had to adjust.”
Through Oct. 28, the Wildcats were 13-0 overall and 5-0 in PAHL play, outscoring their opponents, 36-7, including 12-0 and
8-3 victories in back-to-back games Oct. 27 and 28.
The Wildcats also defeated four PAHL members by a combined score of 34-3 in September exhibition games.
The strong play over the first two months of the season earned the Wildcats some national recognition. At the end of October, they were ranked 20th in the country in the USA Hockey Pee Wee 2000 Tier 2 rankings.
Hajdukiewicz said the individual statistics — goals, assists and point totals — are balanced and reflect the team's willingness to win as a team.
“From the first game, the parents and even the referees were surprise at how much passing and teamwork there was,” he said.
“One of the referees said he hadn't seen a team at this level pass the puck that well. They have adjusted their individual games to each other and are making good decisions. They realize how important it is to play as a team to be successful.”
The Wildcats ventured away from Pittsburgh the weekend of Oct. 20 and played in a Rock N Roll Cup tournament in Cleveland.
They went 4-0 against teams from Cleveland, Columbus and Michigan, with three preliminary victories to go with the triumph in the title game.
“The kids really like the challenge of playing teams from outside the area,” Hajdukiewicz said.
“Because we are doing so well, we are looking for more challenges. They always want to be tested and pushed to their limits.”
The Wildcats will continue to play games outside the area and will take part in a Silver Sticks Pee Wee regional qualifier in the Cincinnati-Dayton area
Dec. 8 to 10.
The qualifier will feed into a national Silver Sticks tournament in Port Huron, Mich. in January.
“The team really bonded on the trip to Cleveland,” Hajdukiewicz said. “That's what's great about these out-of-town tournaments.”