Challenging schedule pays off for Renegades Bantam AA hockey squad
The Steel City Ice Renegades Bantam AA team entered last weekend's PAHL playoffs with a 32-17-6 overall record and clinched second place in its PAHL division at 13-3-4.
Head coach Brian Kurtz requested that a difficult non-league schedule be built to prepare his 1998-birth year team for the grind of postseason hockey.
“We've had an extensive individual schedule where we've played teams from all over,” Kurtz said. “Our independent schedule has been a predominantly Triple-A level schedule with some high caliber teams from Ohio, Michigan, Virginia and Canada.
“I'm trying to get the kids to play at the highest level possible.”
The Renegades have been dominant at times and the familiarity of playing with each other daily brought the confidence and success that Kurtz was hoping to achieve all along.
“We're peaking at the right time,” he said. “To play this type of schedule gives these kids a new perspective of what they'll see in the future playing at a high level.”
The Renegades use a two-man goalie rotation with Jonah Winnier and Tyler Kurtz sharing time in net. Kurtz said he tries to get each goalie adequate time between the pipes but will not shy from riding the hot hand.
“I definitely think we're more of a defensive-minded team, Kurtz said. “I'm a true believer in ‘defense wins championships.'
“We take care of our end first. Then try to get the puck deep and try to control the puck and then get it to the net.”
The top defensive tandem of David Nee and Cam Huffman have been integral in shutting down the opposition and allowing a goals-against average that's a shade under two goals per game. Keaton Hanna is the team's physical defenseman that Kurtz described as his “Brooks Oprik-type” blue-liner.
“We just try to help lead the team and play as hard as we can and give 110 percent each shift,” Nee said. “We play really hard and try to become those offensive defensemen.”
Getting pucks to and in the net has not been an issue. Chris Lipnicky led the team in regular-season scoring with 51 points.
Johnny Rice — new to the Renegades organization — was second with 48 points and being paired with Lipnicky has caused fits for the opposition.
Kurtz said Colin Plyler is the team's emotional catalyst and the rest of the team feeds off his energy.
“I think we're a physical team that hits a lot and can take a lot of hits,” Lipnicky said. “We're good in the offensive zone and defensive zone. We have a lot of kids who can put the puck in the net.”
The Pittsburgh Predators, who edged out the Renegades for the Bantam AA regular-season title, are a team they're familiar with. In the teams' three games this season, each team won one and the other was a tie.
Heading into the playoffs, Kurtz said the Predators could be a thorn in their sides in the quest for a championship, but he was confident his group was more than prepared should they meet.
“I saw in those games the speed we need to play with,” Kurtz said. “With that experience from our independent schedule and the highs and lows and the adversity that we've dealt with, they're more prepared moving into the playoffs to do what it takes to win.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.