North Allegheny's new forwards using extra time to adjust to varsity play
This is as good of a year as any for the North Allegheny hockey team to break in new forwards.
All of the Tigers' experienced returning players are either in the net or on defense.
Having those players return will be beneficial for North Allegheny, which conceded the fewest goals (46) in the PIHL's Class AAA last season.
The Tigers finished 13-4-3 before losing to Peters Township in the Penguins Cup semifinals.
Another break for North Allegheny came in the form of schedule structure. While some teams opened Oct. 2, North Allegheny didn't play its first game until it took on Central Catholic 10 days later at the Baierl Complex.
“I think we have a benefit for that,” North Allegheny goalie Ryan Heil said. “As a team we had a lot of new faces and not many people knew how to play with each other. Those practices were bonding moments, and we learned how to play with each other. We are more ready for the games.”
It's given Tigers coach Mike Bagnato five extra practices to work on getting the players introduced to his program.
“It's been nice,” Bagnato said. “We have a young team and they benefitted. There are things as a coaching staff we have to prepare for.”
The Tigers' coaches will have a tough test to open. Central Catholic was the top seed in the playoffs last season before being upset by Peters Township in the finals.
North Allegheny's goaltending duo should give the Tigers a chance to open the season strong. Heil was 10-3-3 last season, registering a .919 save percentage and 1.97 goals-against average. Richard Karapandi was 2-1 in four appearances.
Justin Symons, Nathan Heil, Luke Turkovich, Bernardo Vieira and Tyler Duderstadt all return on the blue line for the Tigers.
Vieira led the returning defensemen with seven points (two goals, five assists) and Duderstadt finished with six (one goal, five assists).
“I think it's communication between the pair and the goalie,” Vieira said. “Always being in the right position and having sticks in lanes.”
North Allegheny would like to see the forwards undergo the same maturation process.
Bagnato is focused on making sure they know the fundamentals.
“First, we want to make sure all the guys are working hard,” Bagnato said. “My premise is that everyone needs to work hard and be on the same page. If you can get all 20 guys doing that at some point down the line, you'll be OK.”
Then the Tigers' offense can attempt to be as strong as their defense.
“I think it's good we have a strong defensive core,” Ryan Heil said. “They all know how to play. We are strong in that department. It's good because that strength from the defense is able to carry over into the offense. It gives them a push and teaches the offense how to work harder.”
Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.