Ford City hockey team's future on thin ice
TribLIVE Sports Videos
The long-term fate of Ford City's hockey program is unclear. No Open Class will exist after this season, so the Sabers will compete against unfamiliar competition — that is, if they don't merge with Kittanning for the 2013-14 schedule.
“This could be the last year for Ford City,” coach Glen Kilgore said. “We could combine next year. So why not go out on top?”
Ford City, a contender for the Open Cup the last two seasons, enters the season with an unprecedented urgency to claim a second title and the collective talent to win it all. The Sabers' schedule begins Thursday with a game against Carrick at the Ice Castle in Castle Shannon.
Kilgore, a former assistant who replaced coach Doug Anthony during the offseason, considers this group of Sabers the second-most talented he's supervised since the program's revival in 2007. The top spot, Kilgore said, belongs to the 2008-09 team that lost just once on the way to a Chiefs division championship and the Open Class title. But there's time and room for a revision of that list.
“That (2008-09) team was ridiculously special,” Kilgore said. “It had the talent to compete anywhere in the PIHL. This team has the potential to be like that.”
The Sabers' offensive centerpiece is senior center Jesse Valasek. A season ago, Valasek and his older brother, Kevin, provided Ford City a one-two punch few Open Class challengers matched.
Defenseman Kevin Valasek graduated after a 28-goal, 34-assist regular season. Jesse Valasek, responsible for 29 goals and 28 assists last winter, hopes to maintain his reputation as an elite scorer as he moves forward.
“I try to follow in his footsteps and lead the team how he did,” Jesse Valasek said. “I think definitely when he graduated we lost a huge goal scorer, so I feel I have to take on that role and produce as he did.”
Said Kilgore: “Jesse, the way he's played so far, in my eyes, he's unstoppable.”
Without the elder Valasek in his lineup, Kilgore searched for a new star blue-liner during the preseason. He acknowledged that no one on his roster can match Valasek's particular combination of offensive skills and defensive intelligence. But he's confident a few candidates — namely junior John Phelps and sophomore Marcus McCall — will allow Ford City to remain among the Open Class' most aggressive teams, one that's ready to attack in its own end as well as up ice.
“We don't like to stay in the defensive zone,” said Phelps, who finished with five goals and 19 assists. “We try to get it out as fast as possible, sometimes just by flicking it off the boards. We're looking to get the guy as he's going down the ice, kind of like a Hail Mary.”
Valasek's graduation stripped Ford City of one key goal scorer, but the Sabers remain stocked with gifted offensive playmakers. Eric Lindey scored 25 goals to go with 22 assists a season ago as a sophomore. Sophomore Josh Oliver (14 goals, 23 assists) and Eli Thompson (5, 10) also bolstered the offense, which finished second among Open Class teams in regular-season goals (140). And freshman Luke Gross thrived as a linemate of Valasek and senior Joe Cippel this preseason.
Senior Adam Cogley steps in as the goaltender again. He split starts with other netminders the last two seasons, but this winter, he's the sole guardian of the goal.
The Sabers refuse to get ahead of themselves — thinking about titles might've contributed to Ford City's Chiefs division semifinal-round loss last winter and its Chiefs Cup setback the year before. But they admit there's an aspiration to write an unforgettable final chapter for their program's history.
“If this is the last year for Ford City hockey, it'd be awesome to go out and win everything,” Jesse Valasek said. “When it dies off, it'd be a great way to remember this team.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-543-1303.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Rutherford shines as old boss pouts
- Attorney general’s twin sister sued by FBI agent ex-boyfriend
- Penguins’ Kessel ‘thrilled’ with chance to play with Crosby, Malkin
- Young Nebraska girl’s organs give 2 Pittsburgh-area boys a chance to live
- Liriano, Pirates complete sweep of Tigers
- Hurricanes owner rips Rutherford, Penguins
- Shaken by economic, political turmoil, MLB forsaking Venezuela
- Lower Burrell couple charged with 6 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty
- Hempfield bicyclist gets one last chance from Westmoreland County judge
- Gov. Wolf vetoes bill to privatize Pennsylvania’s liquor system
- Insurer Aetna to buy Humana in $37B deal