Senior Dan Merz paces productive Norwin offense
When Norwin senior Dan Merz said by phone last week, “We're playing a lot more defensive style this year,” presumably he did so with a straight face.
Sure, the Knights' defense has been good enough this season. But its offense has produced at a potent enough level that belies a team that is strictly focused on playing in its own end.
Norwin averaged six goals per game in getting out to a 2-1 start that included an impressive win against defending PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup champion Bethel Park last week.
Finally a senior, Merz is Norwin's captain but is in his fourth season as a team leader and third season as its leading scorer. Even with a thinned-out roster this season, Merz believes he and the Knights can accomplish great things.
“We have a pretty short bench — we only have 11 skaters,” Merz said. “But we're a really close team amongst each other. And we're keeping our goals the same as they usually are — make it to the Penguins Cup and try to get as far into the playoffs as we can.”
Three games into his senior season, Merz has 66 goals and 49 assists in 65 career regular-season games for Norwin. Merz had seven goals this season heading into a game Monday against Shaler.
Merz, who plays for the Westmoreland Eagles 18-under AA team, has been one of PIHL Class AAA's best players over the past three seasons.
“I'd say I feel like I have become more calm in everything out on the ice,” Merz said. “I don't get frustrated as much as I used to, and I try more to push through everything. That, and getting older and getting physically stronger, I've noticed it's a lot harder for the bigger kids to take me down or hit me.”
Like last season, Merz is the most prominent member of the Knights' top line that also consists of juniors Timothy Palmer and Dante Youhon.
“We work pretty well together,” Merz said. “We know each other pretty well to know how to move the puck to each other, and we enjoy playing with each other.”
Palmer is an alternate captain on the team along with senior defenseman Robert Romeo.
Romeo logs plenty of ice time — for good reason. Three Knights handle the vast majority of the Norwin defenseman duties. Junior Eli Reith and senior Christian Slafka are the other ironman blue-liners.
The defensemen feel the need to be solid, in the early going of the season at least. That's because Norwin goalie Albert Chad is in his first season of ice hockey.
Chad, a senior, had proven himself playing for Norwin's roller hockey team and was called upon when the senior duo of Scott Cromling and Ryan Boccabella graduated after last season.
Among Norwin's other key contributors this season are forwards Jonathan Shirley, Marc Swankler and Alex Moxie.
“It's a little rough this year because we have such a short bench,” Merz said, “but we've got a bunch of guys who like to be out there on the ice. We all do what we can for the team. We're playing well.”