Wildcats dominate for Squirt AA regular-season hockey title
North Pittsburgh Wildcats Squirt AA head coach Mike Fritz said he had a good sense that his team had the talent to have a successful season in the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League.
A majority of the team played together before, and four players from outside the Wildcats organization were added to the group for the 2012-13 campaign.
“We had a good nucleus and then we added some other pieces, and you never know how that's going to work out,” Fritz said.
“The goal, from a coaching perspective, was could we get them to jell and perform as a team. Luckily, we were able to do that successfully.”
The team — the nine forwards, four defensemen and one goaltender — came together to produce a PAHL Squirt AA regular-season championship with a 14-1-1 record.
Heading into last weekend's PAHL playoffs, the Wildcats closed out the regular season Feb. 24 with an 8-0 victory over the Phantoms.
“(The win) was pretty consistent with how we've played all season,” Fritz said. “We had pretty steady and aggressive team defense from the goaltenders and the defense up to the forwards. We did a nice job all year in limiting shots on goal, and that has kind of allowed the offense to come from it.”
North Pittsburgh's defense was on the mark throughout its 16 PAHL games. It allowed only 17 goals in those games and pitched five shutouts.
At the same time, the Wildcats' offense scored a league-best 67 goals.
“We had a couple of forwards who scored more goals than others, but for the most part, we had pretty nice balance from all the forwards, as well as some on defense,” Fritz said. “Our second-leading goal scorer was one of our defensemen. We didn't have to rely on any one player. Sometimes, against the stronger teams, they can key on one of your stronger players, but that wasn't the case with us. One of the keys for us was our depth. Everyone contributed.”
In PAHL play, North Pittsburgh tied the Renegades, 2-2, and split two games with second-place South Hills (13-2-1).
The Wildcats went 2-2 overall with South Hills, as the two teams met in the preseason and in tournament action.
“All four games were terrific hockey games,” Fritz said. “They were all competitive and fast games. You wish you could play games like that every week.”
The Wildcats hoped for the same success in the playoffs last Saturday and Sunday as it had in the regular season.
All nine teams in Squirt AA were split into three pools of three teams for round-robin pool play Saturday.
The winners of each pool advanced to Sunday's semifinal round, along with one wild-card team.
The two finalists played four games in two days.
“It is a pretty jam-packed weekend tournament,” Fritz said.
Fritz said his team was well prepared for that format after playing four tournaments throughout the season, and each tournament featured several games over a two- or three-day period.
North Pittsburgh was 3-1 in its four tournaments. In the tournament the Wildcats lost, they were on the short end of a championship-game shootout.
“It's a lot harder to win the regular-season title because it's over the course of several months, and anything can happen,” Fritz said.
“I was just really proud of the way the boys worked hard. We have three simple rules for the team — work hard, have fun and listen to the coaches. The kids responded really well as a team. They loved to play the game together, and it was fun to be a part of.”
Michael Love is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org