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South Fayette hockey enjoying luxury of experience

| Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
South Fayette celebrates after scoring against Norwin Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
South Fayette celebrates after scoring against Norwin Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
South Fayette's Nolan Sarnowski (81) celebrates after scoring against Norwin Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
South Fayette's Nolan Sarnowski (81) celebrates after scoring against Norwin Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
South Fayette's Nolan Sarnowski (81) and Norwin's Mason Pivarnik (15) fight for possession Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
South Fayette's Nolan Sarnowski (81) and Norwin's Mason Pivarnik (15) fight for possession Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
South Fayette goalie Bruce Hardman (24) makes a save against Norwin Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
South Fayette goalie Bruce Hardman (24) makes a save against Norwin Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
South Fayette's Ryan Barnette (2) looks to pass against Norwin Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
South Fayette's Ryan Barnette (2) looks to pass against Norwin Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
South Fayette's Dante Cecere (3) and Norwin's Joshua Hoffman (47) compete Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
South Fayette's Dante Cecere (3) and Norwin's Joshua Hoffman (47) compete Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at Center Ice Arena.

The South Fayette hockey team is skating into a season of potential that doesn't come around often.

The Lions are receiving a boost from a roster filled with upperclassmen. They have coach Frank Certo calling this the deepest team South Fayette has had.

“For some organizations, talent comes in waves,” Certo said. “Sometimes you get a group of players peaking at the same time, and you have a short window. We have six or seven seniors and an even bigger class of juniors.”

The Lions are off to a fast start with wins over Greensburg Salem, 8-2, and Norwin, 9-2. Certo credits the team's intense style of play for the dominating efforts.

“We have three lines and can sometimes throw a fourth line on the ice,” Certo said. “The three lines all play a similar style. Some might have more talent and some might have different roles. But we are a forechecking team and a cycling team. A lot of teams are not ready to work with us or our level of physical play.”

South Fayette's early offensive production has been led by a pair of sophomores: Nolan Sarnowski has four goals and four assists, and Matthew Marquis has three goals and four assists. Both rank among the top 10 point producers in Class A.

“Both played extensive minutes as freshmen,” Certo said. “It was a little over their heads, but they gained experience. They have played together on amateur teams. They are two players that are fun to watch.

“We are in a great position where we don't need freshmen and sophomores to step up and be leaders.”

The leadership comes from the pride of the Lions upperclassmen. Brandon Poage — a senior who was selected for the 2017 PIHL All-Star game — was the team's scoring leader last season despite being more of a grinding power forward. Daniel Pollock has five points through two games and is a forward Certo said is coming into his own.

Dante Cecere brings size to the forward position for South Fayette.

“He is an ominous presence,” Certo said. “He is a big boy who keeps it simple. He is one of the better defensive centers in the league.”

Augie Bishop and John Trinkala give a boost to the Lions' defense with their experience.

South Fayette has two quality goalies. Kyle Sharp was a PIHL All-Star selection last season and brings four years of experience to the position. But junior Bruce Hardman is also game-ready and recorded 15 saves in the win over Norwin.

“They both are working hard,” Certo said. “There is nothing better than seeing two upperclassmen push each other.”

While the annals of South Fayette hockey are not deep, the Lions are ready to add a new chapter to their history.

Maybe this one will end with gold.

“The school has zero hockey history outside of a Penguins Cup (runner-up) run a few years ago,” Certo said. “These kids don't know what it is like to go on a run like that. We need to learn what it takes to win those big playoff games.

“We have as much talent as anyone. We need to keep the kids focused as the season goes on.”

Nathan Smith is a freelance writer.

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