TJ hockey bounced in semifinals
Thomas Jefferson's hockey team saw its season end one step short of a berth in the PIHL Penguins Cup finals.
The Jaguars lost to top-seeded Franklin Regional, 6-4, in the semifinal round of the Class A playoffs.
Hayden Hintemeyer, Mason Maguirk, Danny Harrold and Matt Krieger scored the goals for TJ, while Dom Tamburi, John Rimsky, Joey Oliver and Brenden Crousey were credited with assists.
Thomas Jefferson corralled second place in a five-team battle atop of the Western Division standings in the regular season, and finished with a 14-7 overall record.
“I think this year's team exceeded expectations,” TJ coach Bill Crousey said. “With a first-year goalie and an inexperienced defense, my hopes were to be around .500 and squeak into the playoffs.
“However, both continued to improve as the season went on. The offense performed exactly as expected and filled the net. I believe once the players realized they could compete with the top teams, they pushed each other to become one.”
The Jaguars defeated Freeport, 8-2, and, in triple overtime, South Fayette, 5-4, in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Jaguars ended up with a 115-80 overall scoring advantage this season, and were led by Harrold and Krieger in the scoring column.
Harrold, a senior forward, ended the regular season with 28 goals and 20 assists (48 points), while Krieger, a junior forward, tallied 23 goals and 16 assists (39 points).
Next-in-line were Hintemeyer, with five goals and 18 assists (23 points); and Oliver, with seven goals and 15 assists (22 points). Both are sophomore forwards.
Other leading scorers included Crousey, a junior defenseman; Tamburi, a senior forward; John Piscitelli, a sophomore forward; and Kevin Koett, a junior forward.
Casey Bilski, a junior defenseman, finished among the team's leading players in assists.
“The team was involved in some really exciting games, including the three-overtime playoff game (against South Fayette),” coach Crousey said. “The players continued to improve the entire season, which helped us reach the semifinals.
“I'm proud of the way the players competed all year. We didn't have the most talented team, but with hard work and commitment we were able to be the best team we could be.”
Krieger, Harrold and Oliver made up the Jaguars' top offensive line.
The No. 2 line consisted of Hintemeyer, Tamburi and Koett.
Piscitelli, Rimsky, a sophomore forward; plus senior Ryan Michak and junior Jared Rossi, who alternated on right wing, skated on the third line.
Bilski, the team captain, and Crousey, the coach's son, were the top defensemen in front of senior goaltender Mitch Chontos, in his first season with the Jaguars.
Harrold, Krieger and Crousey were chosen as Class A All-Stars.
“The two biggest surprises this season (were) the play of our goaltender and our defense,” coach Crousey said. “Mitch has very little experience in goal but played well. Our defense (was) young, with no seniors, and continued to get better all season. Brenden and Casey were complemented by another junior, Justin Leopold; sophomore P.J. Chonko; and two freshmen, Brandon Kibe and E.J. Burnstein.”
Piscitelli filled in on defense for an injured Burnstein late in the season. Maguirk, a freshman, then skated in Piscitelli's center position on the third offensive line.
There were four seniors on the squad, consisting of Harrold, Tamburi, Chontos and Mitchak, along with eight juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen.
“We lose four seniors this year,” said Crousey, who was assisted by Phil Ripepi and Jim Jacobs this season. “The loss of those four will definitely hurt. We lose quite a few goals with Harrold and Tamburi graduating, along with their experience of two semifinal appearances in four years. Danny and Dom were part of 58 wins (regular season and playoffs) in their four years here. To me, that speaks volumes of what they meant to TJ hockey.
“We also lose two first-year seniors who played big parts in our success this year. Mitch Chontos and Ryan Michak only played one year but had a great impact on our team.”
Juniors Nikita Sidun and Seth Ruby, and freshman Jake Schmidt, rounded out the 2016-17 squad.
“We don't have a JV team, per say,” coach Crousey said. “We co-op with South Park. Many of those players played varsity, as well.
“We have a freshman team that played in the Tier I division against many Class AAA schools. The team finished in second place and won its first playoff game against Mt. Lebanon. That team has a handful of eighth graders that can definitely help our team next year.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.