Upstart South Park squad enjoying early-season success
There is a new sense of optimism being felt among hockey players in the South Park locker room.
After several years of struggles, the Eagles opened the season with an encouraging 3-3 record in the month of November. Last season, the team won only three games.
“We've already matched that this year,” senior captain Cam Sabatini said. “(It's a) really good feeling.”
It is a long season, so the players know they can't get overconfident this early on.
“It's really been a big boost, but we need to take it with a grain of salt, too,” Sabatini said.
First-year head coach Brandon Tingle has his team playing sound, positional hockey.
“He's teaching us a lot, teaching us how to play better,” senior Billy Walker said. “We always had the skill, but it's just going into place and we're playing together now.”
South Park has played with systems before, but they were not always executed properly.
“This year is the first year that we've … showed that they work in the games,” Sabatini said.
The team is doing a much better job of adapting to situations on the ice, too.
“A lot of it has been the fact that our gameplan changes from game to game,” Sabatini said.
There is more teamwork and chemistry among the players this year, Sabatini said.
Tingle said the team feels like a family. For three pairs of siblings, it literally is. Walker is the team's leading scorer, and his brother, freshman Shane Walker, is the starting goaltender.
Sabatini and his sister, Allie, who is a sophomore, both play on the blue line, and senior defenseman Aaron Kircher and freshman forward Kyle Kircher play at opposite ends of the ice.
“They all realize that it's an opportunity to play with their siblings,” Tingle said. “That just contributes to the ‘teamness' of our team.”
Regardless of experience, all of the players are giving the team their best effort, the clearest example of which is the younger Walker, who's position puts him in a high-pressure situation every game.
Although he is just a freshman, he is getting better and playing more aggressively game by game, which is already making an impression.
“He's been playing out of his mind,” Sabatini said. “That's amazing for a kid who only played his first varsity game about a month ago.”
At the other end of the ice, the elder Walker has been scoring more goals, enough to make him the No. 5 scorer in Class A through November with 11 goals and 5 assists.
“I think my linemates (Tyler Gerhold and Ryan DeDomonicis) have a lot to do with it,” Walker said.
With their newfound success, the players believe they can reach the playoffs for the first time in more than four years.
“I have a lot of faith in our team that we can make it this year,” Sabatini said. “We have to work and get better and hopefully beat some of the teams later in the season that we may not beat at this point in time.”
For the team's senior class, this is their final chance.
“It would be amazing to play my last high school hockey game as a playoff game,” Sabatini said.
As much as the players want to make the playoffs for themselves, restoring the team's reputation is an even bigger motivator.
“We're just trying to bring South Park hockey back to where it needs to be and making the playoffs is the first step in that direction,” senior defenseman Josh Smith said.
Amanda Iannuzzi is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.