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Bishop Canevin hockey looks to improve defense

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
Nikita Meskin will return to the net for the Crusaders after serving as the starting goalie last season. Randy Jarosz | for the Bridgeville Area News
Signal Item
Nikita Meskin will return to the net for the Crusaders after serving as the starting goalie last season. Randy Jarosz | for the Bridgeville Area News
Randy Unger, left, will provide the Bishop Canevin hockey team an offensive threat during the 2012-13 season. Randy Jarosz | for the Signal Item
Signal Item
Randy Unger, left, will provide the Bishop Canevin hockey team an offensive threat during the 2012-13 season. Randy Jarosz | for the Signal Item

The Bishop Canevin hockey team shined offensively in the PIHL last season, scoring five or more goals in 10 games.

This season, the Crusaders likely will be more low octane.

“I don't expect many high-scoring games,” Bishop Canevin coach Kevin Zielmanski said. “Defensively, I don't want it to go that way. We have two capable goalies and some good defenders.”

The Crusaders are coming off a 15-5-1 season when they qualified for the PIHL Class AA playoffs, falling in the first round to Pine-Richland, 5-1.

To find similar success this season, the Crusaders will need to find a replacement for Matt Walsh, a forward who led the team in points with 28 goals and 32 assists. The team also will need to find a replacement for Peter Karney, who finished with 11 goals and 19 assists.

With the graduation of two top point producers, Bishop Canevin will be boosted by the return of Randy Unger. The junior was second on the team with 15 goals and 22 assists.

“He gave us good production last season,” Zielmanski said. “He scored a lot of clutch goals for us.”

The Crusaders also will be able to look to Garrett Godlewski for offensive production. The junior was fourth in point production last season, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists.

Senior captain Chad Lounder returns after finishing last season with 13 points. And twin seniors Austin and Patrick Large combined for 24 points last season.

“It is going to be interesting to see who leads the charge,” Zielmanski said.

The defense will be led by two talented goalies. Junior Nikita Meskin returns after having a breakout first year in front of the net, recording 300 saves. He battled a health issue during the offseason but is progressing well in his return to playing condition.

“His playing experience is going to help him out,” Zielmanski said.

He will share goaltending duties with Ryan Tucker. The sophomore joined the team last season. While his experience is limited, Zielmanski said he improved greatly over the summer and has looked good in practice.

“He joined the association last year,” Zielmanski said. “He has really improved. I don't think goaltending will be an issue.”

The Crusaders return plenty of experience in front of the net, as well. Senior Matthew Binski and juniors Brennen Adams and Gus Peponidis return after seeing playing time last season.

Junior Nicholas Rajakovich is expected to see an extended role this season.

“He has played mostly forward but played some defense for his amateur team,” Zielmanski said. “He has the ability to read a play and get his stick in the way.”

The defense took an early blow as sophomore Alec Hnat, who's expected to be a regular contributor, broke his thumb in an amateur game and will miss the first four weeks of the season.

Zielmanski said the defense has the potential to be a strong unit but needs to concentrate on its defensive duties instead of looking to push the puck up the ice.

“Sometimes, they can't keep their focus on defense, and they went to join in the rush,” Zielmanski said. “We might be exposed if that continues. I am trying to express to them it is more important to keep the pucks out of their own net.”

If the defense can play to the level Zielmanski expects, the team will be a contender in Class AA. The classification will offer plenty of competition for the Crusaders, especially in their section. Erie Cathedral Prep reached the Class AA Penguins Cup finals last season, falling to West Allegheny.

The main difference between those two squads, though, was West Allegheny had a large group of seniors, while the Ramblers relied on a group of underclassmen, including the talented Jimmy Bufalino.

In addition to Cathedral Prep, Zielmanski said Pine-Richland likely will be a contender in 2012-13. And Zielmanski also expects to see a turnaround from two programs that struggled last season.

“North Hills and Moon are two teams I am expecting to push forward but maybe not to the top of the standings,” Zielmanski said. “Moon has a lot of good players, and they don't take a lot of penalties. We played North Hills twice last season.

“They were not strong when we first played them in the early part of the season, but when we played them the second time late in the season, they were much improved and gave us a good game. I think they will surprise some people.”

The Crusaders played in the St. Margaret Fall Face-Off tournament in the preseason.

The event — which features the top teams from the Class AAA, AA and A — didn't perform well, going 0-3 in pool play.

Bishop Canevin fell to Quaker Valley, 6-5, in the opening game, Central Catholic, 3-2, in the second game and was blanked by Canon McMillian No. 2, 5-0.

“It didn't go very well,” Zielmanski said. “The first two games we started slow and rallied. We had a problem with taking too many penalties and giving up too many power-play goals.”

While the team didn't have the success it might hope for, it gave the coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate the talent.

“I usually get some games before the season, but it has become increasingly harder to find a time with other coaches because of limited ice time,” Zielmanski said. “We get to go in and see what we have. We won it last year, which is a nice bonus.

“This year, we didn't win a game, which is disappointing but doesn't affect the rest of the season. It is a good measuring stick early on.”

As the team looks to improve for the regular season, Zielmanski doesn't want to lay out the goals. While the team wants to win the section, make the playoffs and win the Penguins Cup, the coach wants to lay out a single goal to his squad.

“A couple of years ago, I told the team I didn't want to underachieve but instead overachieve,” Zielmanski said. “That was the year we won state.

“Hopefully, we can push the team to achieve its true potential.”

Bishop Canevin returns to the ice at 7:10 p.m. today, Thursday, to face Plum at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center.

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-388-5813.

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