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Kittanning hockey comfortable with struggle — for now

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Kittanning goaltender Cameron Langham deflects a shot away from the net and toward freshman defenseman Zane Wichowski during a 4-0 loss to Bethel Park Monday night at BladeRunners in Harmarville.
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Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, 9:18 p.m.
 

Do not panic, Kittanning hockey coach Jamie King advised his team after another close preseason loss Monday night. This will pass.

As the start of the PIHL regular season approaches, the Wildcats are learning their weaknesses in competitive but ultimately meaningless exhibition games and tournaments. They took lumps last month in the Steve Bryan Memorial Belmont Cup, winning just one of four games. And they're poised to take a few more this week as they participate in the 20-team St. Margaret's Foundation Fall Faceoff at BladeRunners in Harmarville.

King and company aren't comfortable with losing. But they recognize how a few humbling setbacks will encourage Kittanning to work harder and improve in time for the Nov. 1 season opener.

“I think we'll have a good season,” senior forward Hunter Anthony said. “Guys just need to keep their heads up. There's no reason to get down this early.”

The Wildcats are accustomed to success. They made the PIHL Class A semifinals the last three seasons, and they lost just seven regular-season games combined during that span. Struggle is a relatively new concept.

“It's frustrating to not win,” senior forward and captain Eli Johns said. “But that'll come. … I expected it to happen. There are always ups and downs in a season.”

So far, Kittanning's lone win in five preseason games was a 4-2 victory over Freeport in the Belmont Cup. But the Wildcats excelled during stretches of their four losses. King praised their back-checking and puck possession in the corners of the offensive zone.

Two more preseason games await the Wildcats later this week: They'll play North Allegheny on Wednesday and Pine-Richland on Thursday.

The fact that Monday's opponent, Bethel Park, a 4-0 winner, as well as the two upcoming foes are considerably larger programs than Class A Kittanning is not lost on the Wildcats.

“It's fun to play against the upper teams,” senior goaltender Cameron Langham said. “It's good competition. And we're hanging with them. … We're not getting the wins, but we're building a lot. Our defense is better and we're getting quality shots.”

King identified turnovers as a major problem for the Wildcats in the Belmont Cup. He anticipates the preseason tournaments will afford his players time to develop chemistry enough to cut down considerably on giveaways.

The Wildcats, King said, will realize each other's preferences and playing speeds. They lean on too many underclassmen who are varsity newcomers — freshmen such as Jamie Contrael and Donovan Wichowski, as well as sophomores Nate Grafton and Jacob Snyder — to expect on-ice fluidity right now.

“This year's team has been fun to coach so far,” King said. “They're hungry to learn.

“We don't go anywhere to lose. … But on Nov. 1, we want to be ready to go.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303.

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