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Highlanders' rookie hockey coach has high expectations

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

Baldwin's rookie head coach Joe Powell has some lofty goals for the 2012-13 PIHL season.

The Highlanders are aiming to repeat as a section titlist, and compete for the PIHL open division championship.

“Last year, we lost in the semifinals, so we'd like to take that extra step and we believe in our locker room we've got the team to do that this season,” said Powell, a former Baldwin and California University of Pennsylvania hockey standout.

“At the same time, we want to have fun, teach the boys hockey, develop the program for long-term success, and give them every opportunity to play college or junior hockey after high school.”

Baldwin skated past Ringgold last week, 13-1, to go into the holiday break with a 6-2 overall record.

The Highlanders turned things around dramatically last year, improving from a dismal 1-19 overall record in 2010-11 to 16-4-1 in 2011-12.

This year's varsity team is comprised of five seniors, two juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen.

Offensively, the Highlanders are led by a pair of sophomores and a junior.

Sophomore forward Dakota Becker leads the team in goals (11) and points (20), to go along with his 9 assists in six games.

Brian Dee, a sophomore forward and an assistant captain, is the team's assist leader with 10, and ranks second in points with 19. Through seven contests, he also generated 9 goals.

Junior forward Anthony Alaimo is third in team scoring with 18 points (10 goals, 8 assists), and has a plus-18 rating, in eight games.

However, Powell believes the Highlanders are not a “three-man show.”

“The strength of this year's team is ... our team,” he said. “Phil Jackson once said, ‘the strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the pack is the wolf.'

Everyone has accepted their role. They give maximum effort and more (on) every shift; they listen well, and they our buying into what the coaches are preaching.”

Another team strength this year has been its penalty killing efficiency. The Highlanders have killed 34 of 37 penalties (92 percent), and have scored five shorthanded goals.

“Not only have we been able to cut back on the amount of penalties we are taking (as compared to last year), but our PK has been really good,” Powell said. “You can't have good penalty killing without a great goalie.”

Ryan Beerman is a senior goalkeeper at Baldwin. Beerman has posted two shutouts in compiling a 6-2 record. He owns a save percentage of .843, and a goals-against average of 2.3.

“It starts with our goalie. He's been the backstop for a very young team,” said Powell, who is assisted by Baldwin grad Matt Canofari, a lifelong friend of the Highlanders' head coach.

“We've been able to improve our play in front of Ryan, but he has given us an opportunity to win every game this year.”

Baldwin's defensive corps is paced by the tandem of Jake Naylor, a senior and team captain, and Ryan Doran, who is a junior.

Two other top defensive players are underclassmen — freshman Kenny Dee and sophomore Trevor Dutkiewicz.

Dee leads the defensive corps on the offensive end with 7 goals and 10 assists.

“Kenny and Trevor have been tremendous,” Powell said.

Kaleb Reckley is a senior forward and an assistant captain this year. Two other senior team members are Tim Cass and Alan Yauch, both forwards.

Others in the sophomore class on the 2012-13 team roster are forwards Dylan Davey and Adam Gift, along with junior varsity call-ups Dom Venturino, a defenseman, and Matt Yauch, a goaltender.

Gift (4 goals) and Reckley (2 goals) rank among the team leaders in scoring with 11 points apiece.

Rounding out the squad are freshmen forwards Max Milan and Tyler Rush, and freshman defenseman Mark O'Hanlon. Rush and O'Hanlon are JV call-ups.

“I'd like to see improvements in our execution of our systems, and continue to cut back on the amount of penalties we take,” Powell said. “We're building the program for the future, installing systems that will hopefully bring structure to Baldwin hockey. As the season goes on, we'd like to be able to introduce different forechecks and other systems to our players.

“We're working on perfecting what we started to teach at the beginning of the year, and the boys have responded well. We're laying the foundation, and building the house brick by brick right now.”

Powell, 25, joined the Baldwin coaching staff as an assistant last year, and has taken over for former head coach Kevin Becker this season.

“Being a first-year head coach is interesting; it's a lot more responsibility than I realized,” Powell said. “I'm turning 26 in February, not your typical age for a varsity head coach, but I'm really enjoying it. “My youngest brother (Jesse) was a senior last year. I just wanted him to have fun and help him try to enjoy his senior year.

“But I certainly enjoy being around hockey; teaching the game I love to young people is enjoyable.”

Powell may spend more time on the ice this winter than he does on dry land, as hw also is as an assistant coach at California University of Pennsylvania, where he played hockey from 2005 to 2010.

During Powell's collegiate career, Cal generated a 117-24 overall record, won the College Hockey East regular season and league championship four years in a row, competed at nationals three times, and in 2008 won the ACHA Division III national championship.

Baldwin's varsity team will be idle until Jan. 3 when the Highlanders host Greensburg Salem (7-3) at Ice Castle. Game time is 6:40 p.m.

Against Ringgold, Alaimo and Davey recorded hat tricks for the local squad.

Becker, Brian Dee and Adam Gift netted two goals and Reckley scored once.

Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or

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