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Recent challenges fortify Ford City hockey

Ford City goaltender Adam Cogley adjusts his crease position amid offensive pressure from Altoona during a 9-1 win at the Belmont Complex on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012.

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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 11:52 p.m.

Though its win percentage ranks among the best in the PIHL Open Class, Ford City's hockey team regards its record as a sign of slight underachievement.

At the start of the season, the Sabers (6-1-1) viewed themselves as not only capable of a championship run, but potentially talented enough to go undefeated. Among Ford City's players and coaches, there's no less conviction about title chances as the PIHL's holiday break approaches. But the setbacks helped the Sabers realize how much room for improvement exists.

“We learned we've got to bring it every night,” coach Glen Kilgore said. “We've taken off a couple nights, a couple games, and it cost us both nights.”

Hopes of a perfect campaign ended when Indiana tied Ford City at 2, at the Belmont Complex in the Sabers' fourth game of the season.

The mood further soured 14 days later, when Ford City suffered a 5-3 loss at Hollidaysburg, which jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period.

“It was a big shock for all of us,” defenseman John Phelps said of the two-game skid. “I think it was a good learning thing for us, because we know we can't come out and underestimate teams that we think we're going to smoke.”

Statistically, Ford City remains among the Open Class elite. The Sabers average 9.5 goals per game, second only to Greensburg Salem. They allow 2 goals per game (tied for third).

Jesse Valasek and Josh Oliver each sit in the top 20 in points per game with 4.1 and 2.7, respectively. And goalie Adam Cogley is third among full-time starters in goals-against average (1.9).

Two games stand between Ford City and the winter break. The Sabers will host Connellsville (0-7) Monday and meet Keystone Oaks (3-2) at the Penguins' Pond on the South Side on Dec. 20.

On-ice preparation in the days just prior to New Year's Eve will center on a Jan. 2 game at Indiana (8-1-1).

“We're not quite where we want to be, but we're getting there,” Kilgore said. “I think the next few games should get us close to where we want to be. … We'll try to get things rolling for that Jan. 2 game, which can't come fast enough for me.”

That readiness will include a refined understanding of the challenges presented by Open Class opponents.

“I think we do have an extra guard on (confidence) just because (the loss and tie) have happened,” Valasek said. “If they didn't happen, I don't think we would have one. I'm not saying it's a good or a bad thing that it actually happened, but it's going to help us out in the long run.”

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