Hempfield hockey to lean on veteran defense
Hempfield's hockey team is set on the blue line.
The Spartans just hope their defense leads to some offense as the PIHL season progresses.
Seniors Jake Anderson, Ethan Grant, Drew Mull, Kane Mills and sophomore Trent Gray are back on defense, and junior Isaiah Forsyth is new to the program. In addition, goaltender Nolen Ferree is back in the crease.
“It's a big plus having all that experience,” Hempfield coach Denny Zeravica said. “We have six solid defensemen. I think it'll be a big help to us, especially early in the season until the forwards get their feet wet. If we have to play close games, we have the experience in the back end to help us.”
Hempfield thought it would have experience at forward, too. However, some players received opportunities to play at higher levels.
“We only had two seniors last year,” Zeravica said. “All these top scorers I thought I had coming back, now they're all away playing somewhere else. It's great for them and I am proud of them, but now it's more opportunity for younger players.”
Jared Gerger, who paced the squad with 27 goals and 39 points, returns to lead the way.
“Jared had a fantastic year last year and looks to be a leader and one of the top dogs, not only on our team, but in the league,” Zeravica said.
Nick Koziara (7 goals, 19 points) finished fourth in team scoring, and Matt Bartus (5, 12) was fifth. Those two return to add experience up front. Connor Lawrence is another veteran forward. Matt Traczynski, Christian Konieczka and Nick Lippa are some of the newcomers expected to make an impact.
“They'll get their opportunities this year. I really like what I've seen,” Zeravica said. “As the season goes on and they get more familiar with the game at this level, I think they'll fit right in and help pick up some of the scoring punch we lost with the guys leaving.”
They got their first taste of varsity hockey in the Greensburg Central Catholic preseason tournament. Hempfield went 2-1. Its loss came to South Park, 1-0, but the team had a 39-20 edge in shots.
“I thought we played pretty well in that tournament, and it was a great experience for us,” Zeravica said. “The game we lost was really physical. It gave these young guys a taste of what it'll be like during the PIHL season.”
The Spartans have lost in the Penguin Cup semifinals three of the last four years. They hope to get back — and go deeper — this year.
“Some of these guys have played in a couple semifinal games. They know how close we've been and the hard work it takes,” Zeravica said. “I think a lot of these seniors, especially, are very confident in the team we have and feel there's no reason why we can't be back in same position this season.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.