Latrobe hockey taking aim at Penguins Cup championship
Latrobe surprised many when it reached the PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA championship game last year.
With only three players gone from that squad, the Wildcats will get plenty of attention this year.
“The good thing about being in Double-A is that every team can really beat every team. Everyone has a solid roster. It makes it exciting every game you go to. There are no give-me games,” coach Josh Werner said. “The kids that are seniors now, this is my fourth year with them. They understand the systems we use and what the coaches want. It's nice to maybe add some new things some people might not be expecting. We have to use that to maybe catch some of these teams off guard.”
After the initial sting of the 6-1 loss to Plum in the championship wore off, Werner believes the journey to get there galvanized the players.
“I think our confidence has really grown. It's nice to see that. Before games, when we go into the room and give our speech, you can just see the kids are focused and ready to play,” he said. “Last year, throughout the year, it wasn't like that. We'd have to calm them down and get them focused for the game. This year, it's a totally different atmosphere. I feel like they are on a mission to get back to where we were last year. Just how they act before the games and during the games has come a long way.”
The Wildcats' maturity could be worth even more wins this season. The team went 9-9-1 in the regular season but struggled in close games. Latrobe had 11 contests decided by two goals or fewer and went 3-7-1 in them.
“I think that experience from last season and run in playoffs and loss in Penguins Cup really helped them. Now, they know what it takes to get to where we want to be and where we expect to be,” Werner said. “It'll take a team effort. Everyone has their part and their job they need to do. We have to take it one practice and one game at a time. If we do that, it's really proven to work out in our favor.”
The squad welcomes back its top four scorers: Jared Schmizzi, who led the way with 25 goals and 46 points; Cole Novak (16 goals, 30 points); Blake Rossi (14, 29); and Greg Ferri (9, 21).
“Our core is all seniors now. It's nice to have all those guys back, that's for sure,” Werner said. “We have four solid lines and six defensemen. We have a full roster, and we look to use everyone. Everyone has a role.”
Gage Handwork takes over in goal on a full-time basis. He saw some action last year.
“He is excited. He looked good in our preseason tournament. We definitely trust him back there,” Werner said. “It's nice to have a goalie back there you can trust to make the big save when you need it.”
The Wildcats took part in the St. Margaret Fall Face-Off. They beat Armstrong, Franklin Regional and Shaler and tied Canon-McMillan. They lost to Pine-Richland, 6-4, in the championship.
“We played some pretty good teams,” Werner said. “It was a good tournament, especially since we only had one practice leading into it.”
Now that the regular season is here, Latrobe is focused on getting back to the final.
“The loss definitely sticks with us. We think about it anytime we're at the rink,” Werner said. “We're definitely using it as motivation this year.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.