Connellsville ready to skate into new season
For the second consecutive season, the Connellsville varsity hockey team will be under the direction of a new coach.
Connellsville will open the new season at 7:50 p.m. Monday at home against Hollidaysburg, and the game will mark the head coaching debut of Mario Crocetti.
He's been involved in the Connellsville hockey program for several years.
A 2007 Connellsville graduate, Crocetti played for the Falcons and has served as an assistant coach, most recently under former coach Ray Brown last season.
According to Crocetti, this year's team will be rooted in team concepts, especially considering there doesn't seem to be one player that stands out.
“I think this is a very unique year,” Crocetti said. “We've always had a standout player. This year, we don't have that, and we're trying to build a team.
“Our motto is that we are only as strong as our weakest player. I think something we've had issues with in the past is that some of the kids had gotten comfortable standing by and watching (the standout players). But we're trying to play as a team, and we want to teach the full spectrum of the game.”
The Falcons lost several strong players from last year's team that finished 1-19, including goaltender Devin Kalp and leading scorer Tim Brown (31 goals, nine assists in 2011-12).
“We're kind of a younger team,” Crocetti said. “But a bunch of them have been skating for a number of years, and I think we have good promise.”
With Kalp graduating, the goaltending duties fall to senior Thomas Clark.
“He has experience in deck hockey and roller hockey, and he is very strong in net,” Crocetti said.
Senior Sam Wiatrak and junior Cody Grimm are expected to be defensive anchors.
Many of Connellsville's players are products of the Ice Miners youth hockey association, and Grimm and Wiatrak are among them.
“Both of them have played a number of years, and you see them develop,” Crocetti said. “They are gritty, tough-nosed players.”
Jared Kulka and Zachary Miller will add blue line depth. Hunter Detweiler and Kody Bigley also may be called upon to play defense.
Bigley, Johnathan Herchko and Jake Miller are seniors who are expected to provide goal scoring up front.
“They've shown a lot of promise, and we've seen a lot of development,” Crocetti said.
Lawrence Becker, Cole Chorba, Owen Hardy, Tyler Kesler, Christian Luzzi, Cody McNatt, Chuckie Peperak and Detweiler will round out the forward positions.
Miller, who scored Connellsville's lone goal in a 5-1 scrimmage loss to Elizabeth Forward, is excited about the team's potential.
“We've got some nice skaters, and we're all working hard,” Miller said. “We're working together, and we're getting to know each other. Our defensive zone coverage is stronger.”
Miller is hopeful that the team can finish with a winning record this season. For that to happen, Crocetti noted that the team must be prepared to skate hard from the opening faceoff.
“Our goals are to play a full three periods,” Crocetti said. “In the past, we've lost in the third, or we've started slow. We want to push from the moment we step on the ice, and we're aiming to have a winning season.”
Jason Black is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3534.