Hampton, Pine-Richland and Shaler hockey teams ready for tough stretch
The PIHL season has a flurry of games just before taking a brief holiday break, and heading into the next stretch the local high school hockey teams are ready to build on some fast and steady starts to the season.
Coach Mike Bagnato is noticeably excited every time he talks about his team. His team is putting about 50 shots at the opposing net each game, and with the defense limiting the opposing chances, “there is not much more I could ask for,” Bagnato said. “We have a tough stretch ahead, so we will see where we are.”
The Rams are 4-1, but the tests will come when his team visits Franklin Regional at 7:50 p.m. on Monday, followed by a home game against Plum at 6:10 p.m. on Wednesday.
The one aspect Bagnato wants to see improve is the way the Rams let a team hang around in a game, rather than put it away.
“We will keep playing four lines and work in 18 players,” Bagnato said.
The lines roll consistently, but Dillon Kessey, Zach Richey, Ryan Cole and Tyler Makita see the ice a little more frequently, especially during crunch time.
“We need to keep wearing teams down, but still stay composed and patient,” Bagnato said.
“We don't have that big Division I prospect, but we are a strong nucleus that is steady, and we push each other to work hard. It has been fun, and I hope it keeps up.”
Coach Anthony Scolari will accept a 3-0 start thanks to an offensive explosion, but he said the true identity of his team has yet to show itself.
“We play both ends of the ice really well, and the goals will come from the defense,” Scolari said. “If we take care of our own end first, then (we can) go down the ice and finish.”
Scolari said he has seen good puck movement from a relatively new team, and he added that if his team continued to do these same things and not let the record of the opponent dictate how it plays, the outcome will be good.
“We are not going out to score 10-12 goals a game,” he said. “We want to play tight defense and limit their scoring chances.”
Thus far, Hampton has limited the opposition. The Talbots defeated Gateway, 12-2, to open the regular season, then laid it on Montour, 7-2. North Hills proved to be a stiffer task, but Hampton still came away with a 6-4 win.
Hampton is staring at a three-game stretch beginning at 7:45 p.m. today, Thursday at Center Ice against Gateway. Hampton then returns home to play Bishop Canevin at 7:10 p.m. on Monday before playing in an outdoor game against Franklin Regional at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at the Penguins Pond.
At 2-3-1, Shaler is battling. Led by Austin Martz, the team's top scorer, the young Titans are looking to build each game and make a late push for the playoffs.
The biggest obstacle facing coach Curt Hetz is not necessarily what his team is doing on the ice; it's getting them all there to play. A busy travel-team schedule often leaves Hetz short on the bench, and with some of his best players not available as frequently as he would like, the Titans have struggled at times.
“It makes it hard to synchronize the guys and get them all on the same page,” Hetz said. “But that is life in the world of high school hockey. I come from it, and I support it.”
Hetz said he wants to get some more games at full strength (or closer to it) to get an accurate assessment of his team.
What Hetz has discovered is that many of the teams he and his squad have faced have two strong lines, so he is in the process of adapting his bench to meet that challenge.
“I am just not sure exactly where this team is,” he said. “The good news is that we are 2-3-1, and we have done it with a subset of our team and we are in a position to get better.”
Hetz said his penalty kill unit has been a bright spot thanks in part to Mason Werry and Ryan Fischerkeller as well as some other first-year players.
“Every team needs some penalty killers, and I think I have found that,” Hetz said.
The Titans will head to Erie to take on McDowell at 8:30 p.m. today, Thursday, then will play Norwin at 8:45 p.m. on Monday at Harmarville Bladerunners. After that comes a date against rival Central Catholic at 5:40 p.m. at the Penguins Pond on the South Side on Dec. 14.
Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.