Latrobe hockey enters season with new coach
When Eugene Ray stepped down at Latrobe at the end of last season, it wasn't hard for him to sell his eventual replacement, John Winebrenner, to apply for the position.
Winebrenner — the Wildcats' third coach in as many seasons — takes over a team that won a section title last year and is an annual fixture in the PIHL playoffs.
“I came here not only because of the team, but the organization's history,” he said. “They are behind their hockey program 100 percent, and we get a lot of support from the school as well.
“There was a lot of selling points — the last was naturally the talent.”
The talented pool of players starts with Josh Singley — the team's captain. Singley had a productive 2011 season, and Winebrenner expects much of the same from the senior. Chris Johnson will join Singley on the blue line and be one of the team's catalysts in the offensive end.
Defenseman Rob Vasinko had a breakout season last year, and goalie Shane Brudnock has steadily improved since taking over in net. Winebrenner expects both to turn heads throughout the PIHL this season.
The Wildcats have impressed Winebrenner in its first two preseason tournaments, as well as preseason practices. Latrobe edged Shaler, Hempfield and Greensburg Salem en route to a finals matchup against Norwin in the Greensburg Central Catholic Tournament. They also topped Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park and West Allegheny in the St. Margaret's Tournament.
“I (signed us up for those tournaments) because I got some young guys that are on our JV roster, but I am going to use them as move-ups on our varsity roster,” Winebrenner said. “We're hoping that pays off for years down the road so we can build and develop a program to backfill as others graduate.”
Dalton Hunter and Brendan Johns are freshman that Winebrenner hopes can step in and contribute this year, as well as be the building blocks for the program in the next four years.
Winebrenner said when he came to Latrobe, he was not interested in revamping the system, rather he came in with the mindset of not fixing what isn't broken.
“I work with the players and get their input on systems and not try to force and dictate a system,” Winebrenner said. “Their confidence is higher and your success rate will be higher. If you push something that's not going to work, you have an ongoing battle with your players.”
The Wildcats will open the regular season Thursday when they host Kiski Area at 7:15 p.m. at Kirk S. Nevin Arena.
“We are a very focused team. … We are ready for the season and ready for the postseason already,” Winebrenner said. “These kids have high expectations around here.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.