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Led by 5 seniors, Freeport hockey buys into team-first mentality

Erica Hilliard | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Brendon Zack (18) fights for the puck with Kittanning's Jacob Snyder during an early-season game at the Belmont Complex in Kittanning.

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Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, 10:48 p.m.

The Freeport hockey team doesn't designate captains, doesn't name its lines by order of rank, doesn't have a star player who is head and shoulders above his teammates in talent level.

These Yellowjackets successfully have adopted a team-first attitude, much to the delight of their coach.

“The best thing about these guys is we're playing as a team,” coach Dave Hepler said. “We stress that, and we've got a pretty good mix of talent in the locker room of seniors, juniors sophomores and freshmen — and everybody has pretty much played together at different levels.

“We've come together as a team and play as a team. They share the puck, and everyone is pretty balanced. We're headed in the right direction because of team play.”

Feeport is 7-1-1 and carries a five-game winning streak into its holiday break. The Yellowjackets are averaging 5.9 goals per game and allowing 2.1 per contest. Taking away a loss to undefeated Quaker Valley, Freeport is outscoring opponents, 52-15, this season.

“We've been maintaining puck possession and not just banging the puck around, getting opportunities, so we're playing pretty decent,” Hepler said. “We still need to clean up some things on the defensive side, but overall we're doing just fine.”

Freeport has five seniors, all of whom share in the team's captaincy. In Hepler's mind, it was impossible to distinguish between the group of centers Greg Newman, Justin Drzemiecki and Devin Christy and defensemen John Bird and Tyler Bonitsky.

“We don't have any specific captains or assistant captains because all (the seniors) deserve it,” Hepler said.

“As seniors, we know we kind of have to set the tone for all the young kids, let them know how we want to play,” Christy said. “Every one of us knows we have to act as if they look to us as role models.”

The seniors also play significant on-ice roles. Bird and Bonitsky team for a defensive pairing that receives significant ice time, and either Newman, Drzemiecki or Christy is on the ice at any moment of a game centering a line.

Drzemiecki typically skates with junior Nick Zidek and freshman Nick Rusak; Newman centers sophomore Hunter Kepple and freshman Michael Frazetta; and Christy, junior Tyler Sherrieb and freshman Stone Haberstroh usually skate together.

The three centers rotate double-shifting with junior Eric Waddell and freshman Tommy Intrieri. Junior Cole Hepler — Dave's son — also is one of Freeport's top forwards but is injured.

“We're balanced right now, and we're playing as a team, sharing the puck,” Dave Hepler said. “It really doesn't matter who's putting it in the net. As long as it's in the net, we're winning games.”

The balance is exhibited when goal totals are broken down by line: Drzemiecki's unit has seven goals, the Newman line 16, and Christy's 11.

Even the defensive pairings and goaltending have been done by committee. Junior Brendon Zack and sophomore Ethan Waddell and juniors Jared Kapustik and Connor Dlubak are the usual partners.

Freeport has three young goalies who have been getting starts: sophomore Dominic Digiacobbe and freshmen Matt Huston and Katie Hill.

“We're just trying to make the playoffs,” Hepler said, “because anything can happen. In high school hockey, the series is one game, and anything can happen in that game.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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