Hampton victory helps fuel ice rebound
When the Plum varsity ice hockey team was 0-4-1, head coach Dave Stonebraker told his players not to panic.
There was a lot of time left in the season, and there was time to turn things around.
Then, the Mustangs reeled off three wins in a row. They beat Montour, 4-1, and Franklin Regional, 9-3, before handing Hampton its first loss of the season with an 8-5 victory on Dec. 10.
“We knew we had to look at the games we lost as things to work on,” said senior James D'Andrea, who played against Hampton despite battling through an injury.
“Practice has been important as we have work to correct mistakes. We've worked hard, and we started to win some games.”
Plum was scheduled to play Section 4 rival Pine-Richland on Wednesday, and the Mustangs had a chance to avenge an earlier 6-4 loss to the Rams.
The game, which ended past the deadline for this week's edition, closed out Plum's December schedule and puts the Mustangs in a two-week break before they resume play against Kiski Area on Jan. 7 at 8:20 p.m. at Pittsburgh Ice in New Kensington.
“We didn't let (the early struggles) bother us,” said senior forward Todd Ruggiero, who scored one of Plum's eight goals against Hampton.
It was Ruggiero's first goal of the season.
“We came together and pulled through,” he said.
Senior Andrew Walters had a huge game against Hampton with five goals and one assist, and he had 12 goals and 10 assists through eight games.
Junior Joe Randazzo added two goals and two assists against the Talbots, and he now has 14 goals on the season.
“We looked at Hampton as just another game we needed to win,” D'Andrea said.
“We didn't look at their record or what they had done before.”
While Walters and Randazzo lead the stat sheet right now, Walters said the team put together the wins against Montour, Franklin Regional and Hampton with strong teamwork from everyone.
“We're playing as a team, and everyone contributed,” Walters said. “We got that first win, and it was a lot of fun. We wanted to carry that over to the next game and the game after that.
“You can really see how the younger kids are developing and picking up the pace of varsity-level hockey. They are jelling well and figuring out how they need to play to be successful.”
Sophomore David Stonebraker added two assists against Hampton, while senior Derek Zgibor also assisted on a goal.
“The key against Hampton was that in the locker room, the players knew they had a job to do,” coach Stonebraker said.
“We went out there not looking to do it on one person's shoulders. We went out with the ability to play as a team. We wanted to set the pace, and we did that. We outshot them in the first period, and we made them play our game.
“Andrew Walters had a great game, but it wasn't an individual game. Yes, he got a ton of points, but he also spread the puck around. He was unselfish in the points he got.”
Plum led Hampton, 5-1, after two periods of play.
Sophomore James Borriello started in net for Plum and faced five shots in the first period. Senior Taylor Cestra came in for the second and third periods and faced 37 shots.
“We were able to get some minutes for James early on,” coach Stonebraker said.
“It was a predetermined time of when Taylor would come in. It was nothing against either one. James played well, and Taylor came in and played outstanding with some great saves.”
Coach Stonebraker also pointed to the play of senior Jordan Gable against Hampton.
“Jordan's play in the defensive zone and moving the puck up was definitely above expectation,” he said.
“He's an unselfish player who creates plays for the offense. He continues to bring that effort every game.”
The Plum varsity is scheduled to play five games in January, including a special one on Jan. 10 outside in the elements.
The Mustangs will face North Hills at 9 that evening at the Penguins Pond, a temporary rink set up at the new Highmark Stadium on the South Side.
The game is the final one of a series of matchups on the Penguins Pond.
The series opened with a tripleheader on Monday, and three games are played on each designated night.
“It is going to create a special memory for the players,” coach Stonebraker said.
“For those seniors going out, they will be able to look back and say they will have that neat experience. It's a great program they've put together. I give all involved a lot of credit, and we're looking forward to it.”
Last year, the Plum freshmen and junior varsity teams played outside on the rink set up at the South Side Works.
Plum alumni will get together for this year's alumni game on Dec. 27 from 6 to 7:30 at the Pittsburgh Ice Arena.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412- 388-5825 or at email@example.com.