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Thomas Jefferson hopes defense leads to another playoff berth

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 8:58 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson forward Ryan Beveridge is pressured as he crosses center ice by Freeport forward Hunter Kepple during their game at the Belmont Complex in Kittanning. DEAN M. BEATTIE | FOR TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Thomas Jefferson forward Brady Parkinson works to clear the puck from his team's defensive end as Freeport forward Gregory Newman gives chase during their game at the Belmont Complex in Kittanning. DEAN M. BEATTIE | FOR TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Thomas Jefferson goaltender Philip Ripepi makes a save in the first period as Thomas Jefferson defenseman Kevin McCormick keeps Freeport forward Michael Frazetta from getting to the rebound during their game at the Belmont Complex in Kittanning. DEAN M. BEATTIE | FOR TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Thomas Jefferson goaltender Philip Ripepi makes a save on Freeport forward Justin Drzemiecki as Thomas Jefferson forward Matthew Bowers defends during their game at the Belmont Complex in Kittanning. DEAN M. BEATTIE | FOR TRIB TOTAL MEDIA

Thomas Jefferson is playing smart hockey this season. The Jaguars ended the month of December with a record of 6-4, matching their total number of wins last season.

The team found success with a defensive style of play near the end of last season and has continued the concept this season.

The gameplan consists of dumping the puck more often and using a strong forecheck in the offensive zone, rather than trying to make fancy plays.

“The advantage of that is it tires their team down by dumping the puck rather than skating it in,” assistant captain Matt Bowers said.

The players are also giving more thought to each shift before going out on the ice.

“They're getting used to how I want them to play,” third-year coach Bill Crousey said. “I think that's the big difference.”

With only 14 skaters on the roster, Thomas Jefferson doesn't have the bench that other teams do.

“We've been making do with what we have,” Crousey said.

Bowers is the lone senior on the team. The majority of the players are sophomores and juniors, so the team is still young, but more experienced than last year.

Junior center Zach Uhlyar, who is the team's captain, was the No. 3 scorer in Class A at the end of the December with 16 goals and 16 assists.

Brian Zovko and Tommy Kimmick, who was right behind Uhlyar with 16 goals and 9 assists, also have shared time on a line with Bowers and Uhlyar.

Bowers was out for a portion of the season with a shoulder injury, and other players have missed games for a variety of reasons.

“When we don't have all the guys, we've been taking shorter shifts, really conditioning ourselves,” said Uhlyar.

“We've just been taking our short bench into consideration and working around that.”

The players try to score as many goals as they can early in games and then turn to team defense to protect the lead when their legs are tired.

Two of their early wins were by a margin of 11 goals.

There are four defensemen on the Thomas Jefferson roster: Kevin Ringling, Brad Delenko, Kevin McCormick and John Petras.

Goaltender Nick Ripepi has played well behind them, having made noticeable improvements to his game.

“He looks the part and he's playing the part now,” Crousey said.

In the past, he might have let bad goals affect his game. Now, he is able to refocus and his confidence is as high as Crousey has seen it.

“He's come up in some big games for us and really been an important part of our team,” Uhlyar said.

Crousey said this month's games will show him how the team will finish the season. He is looking for the players to progress and come together as a team.

If they can learn from their mistakes and implement some changes in the second half, they feel they can make a return trip to the playoffs.

Last season was TJ's first playoff appearance in six years.

“We really want that feeling again,” Uhlyar said.

“I know that with the team we have, if we play our best and everyone gives it their all, we can get there again and make it even farther.”Smith said.

Amanda Iannuzzi is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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