Deer Lakes hockey team moves back up after restoring confidence
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Deer Lakes Hockey Club took a temporary step backward last season with the goal of taking big strides forward in the long run.
That patient game plan reinvigorated the Lancers — perhaps quicker than expected.
After struggling at the varsity level of the PIHL for several seasons and then deciding to take a one-year break, Deer Lakes has made a promising return to varsity action.
The Class A Lancers (2-1-1) were undefeated through their first three games before losing to South Park, 6-3, on Thursday.
“It was a hard decision but the right decision,” Deer Lakes coach Todd Luniewski said about the one-year intermission from varsity play. “We felt it would be better if we took the season off (from varsity). We thought we'd develop skills and gain confidence, and we'd learn systematic hockey. It's worked very well.”
Two seasons ago, Deer Lakes won only one of 21 varsity games. Last season, the organization's board voted to form only junior varsity and freshman teams so their players, mostly eighth- through 11th-graders, could gain experience while playing against opponents comparable in age.
The Lancers ended up claiming the PIHL freshman title with an 18-0-1 record; the JVs went 13-4-1.
With increased experience and restored confidence, Deer Lakes decided it was time to take on varsity foes again.
“It's really great being back (at the varsity level),” Deer Lakes senior goaltender Lucas Gapsky said. “I had played varsity before. It's a lot faster. I missed that intensity.”
Gapsky, one of five seniors on the roster, has emerged as one of the most pleasant surprises through the first three weeks of the PIHL season.
Less than a month before the season opened, the projected starting goaltender, junior Matt Olesnevich, learned he would miss the season because of ankle problems.
With no experienced backup goalie to call upon, Gapsky volunteered to move from defender and take over in net. The Eagle Scout proved he was prepared, posting a .814 save percentage and 3.37 goals-against average.
“At this point, he's doing an incredible job,” Luniewski said. “I couldn't be more impressed.”
Offensively, sophomore forward Vincent Casale leads Deer Lakes with 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists). The Lancers' balanced attack also features sophomore forwards Zach Luniewski (5-4-9) and Mitchel Rupprecht (5-3-8), sophomore defenseman Jonathan Merlo (2-4-6), senior forward Jack Sherer (2-3-5), junior forward Justin Vecchio (2-2-4) and senior forward Charles Dombroski (3-0-3).
Deer Lakes suffered a setback when Rupprecht broke his hand after the second game. He's expected to miss about three weeks, according to Luniewski.
But with a strong group of underclassmen, it appears Deer Lakes will have considerable firepower for years to come. The Lancers have outscored their opponents, 26-17.
When Rupprecht returns to the lineup, Deer Lakes will have 18 healthy players — a good turnout for a Class A team. The Lancers usually run three lines but sometimes add a fourth. On the other hand, Deer Lakes only has four defenders, but several of the top forwards have been throw in as defenders to add depth and skill.
“Things are definitely very positive,” Luniewski said. “We're headed forward and up. We're looking forward to playing powerhouse teams like Quaker Valley and Mars. We want to see how we do against them. Our motto is: No matter what's put in front of us, let's figure out a way to win.”
Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-224-2696.
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.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.