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Freeport hockey team finally solves rival Kittanning

Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch - Kittanning's Nate Grafton (left) hustles towards the puck against Freeport's Cole Hepler during the hockey game at Belmont Sports Complex on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Erica Hilliard  |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Kittanning's Nate Grafton (left) hustles towards the puck against Freeport's Cole Hepler during the hockey game at Belmont Sports Complex on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.
Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch - Freeport's Cole Hepler attempts to score against Kittanning's Cameron Langham on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, at Belmont Sports Complex.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Erica Hilliard  |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Freeport's Cole Hepler attempts to score against Kittanning's Cameron Langham on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, at Belmont Sports Complex.

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Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 11:33 p.m.
 

Unable to beat Kittanning since the Wildcats dropped to PIHL Class A in 2009, a sense of inferiority began to set in for Freeport's hockey team during recent seasons.

But the Yellowjackets found a way out of that funk Thursday night at the Belmont Complex, the home rink for both teams.

Freeport defeated Kittanning, 5-3, to finally shift the balance of power in the Yellowjackets' favor.

A two-goal surge late in the first period put Freeport ahead, and after a back-and-forth second and early third period, the Yellowjackets pulled away in the game's final six-plus minutes.

The win settled unfinished business between the teams, who tied, 1-1, earlier this season.

“We gave Kittanning a little too much respect the first time,” said junior Cole Hepler, who had two goals and three assists.

“In the past decade, they always spanked us.”

Christian Miller redirected Jacob Snyder's shot from the point to put Kittanning (12-5-1) up, 1-0, with 4:26 left in the first period, but Hepler responded for Freeport (14-4-1) by getting open in front of the crease for an easy one-timer 22 seconds later.

Brendon Zack found the same space open with two-tenths of a second left in the period and snapped a shot in to deliver the Yellowjackets a lead.

“It showed that we can play with them,” Hepler said.

“Those goals were the key point of the game. They showed that it was not going to be an easy game for them.”

Miller notched his second goal with 5:25 left in the second period as he carried a puck across the face of the net and zipped a wrist shot that beat goalie Matt Huston low.

Freeport answered again.

Greg Newman forced a turnover in Kittanning's defensive end, worked a quick give-and-go with Hepler and slipped a shot by goalie Cam Langham on the far side with 3:26 left in the second.

“Anytime you score in the last couple minutes of a period, it's a big, big boost, and it's a downer for the other team,” Freeport coach Dave Hepler said.

One more time, Kittanning tied it — Hunter Grafton jammed a puck in from the doorstep with 9:28 left in the third.

And that tie lasted until 6:33 remained in the game, at which point Michael Frazetta scored thewinning goal during a second-wave rush.

Frazetta and Hepler worked together to provide Freeport breathing room three minutes later.

Rather than try to score on a 2-on-1 break, Frazetta used a drop pass to set up Hepler, who wristed one to the top corner.

“I thought the defender was about to converge on me,” Frazetta said.

The odd-man rushes piled up for Freeport. Langham stopped several point-blank shots during a 25-save night.

“Their defense is their weakness, and Cam makes up for a lot of that,” Dave Hepler said. “But he can't stop every one — not every night, anyway.”

Kittanning coach Jamie King acknowledged that his players left Langham in tough spots at times. The mid-ice turnovers and poor passes led not only to Freeport scoring chances but to limited shots on goal for the Wildcats, who had two through the first period and finished with 16.

“They're a good team,” King said, “and that's kind of how Freeport has played forever — they kind of clog the middle up.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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