Bethel Park junior Derek Lesnak embraces co-captaincy
For a short time last season, Derek Lesnak was appointed by coach Jim McVay as captain of the Bethel Park hockey team.
It was one of the few times in the history of the illustrious Black Hawks program that a sophomore held the honor. Not quite as rare is a full-time junior captain at Bethel Park, but Lesnak shares the co-captaincy with senior defenseman Jake Ewing this season.
McVay guesses it might be only the third or fourth time he's had a full-time junior captain in his 16 years as coach.
“He's an emotional kid,” McVay said. “He gives his heart and soul. He's one of those kids who represent our organization the way it should be represented.”
To Lesnak, being a captain isn't merely a letter sewn onto his jersey. Lesnak's actions are what display leadership.
With Bethel Park off to an 0-2 start in early November and having had given up an uncharacteristic five goals per game, in part due to a thin corps of defensemen, Lesnak volunteered to move to defense.
“Coach McVay asked me if I'd move back, and it was an easy decision for me,” said Lesnak, who was the Black Hawks' leader in goals and points last season. “It wasn't hard. We know we need to concentrate on defense if we're going to win, so this makes me feel more a part of that.”
A six-game winning streak immediately followed the move, and Bethel Park allowed only seven goals in those six games.
Lesnak's acceptance of a position switch that will hurt his personal stats but improve the team's defense is exactly the type of example McVay wants his team to emulate.
The Black Hawks are the defending PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup champions and have won five such title since 2001. They have built their dynasty under McVay by playing sound, disciplined hockey.
An angry McVay made his players skate after their most recent game, an 8-5 loss to Peters Township Friday. Bethel Park allowed more goals in that game than in the previous six combined.
McVay is depending on Lesnak, Ewing and Bethel Park's other top veteran players such as senior forwards Ryan Kusmira and Daniel Yost, junior forwards Chris Siak and Jake Worcester and senior defenseman Austin Jameyson to set the tone for the Black Hawks' younger players.
“If they don't buy into it,” McVay said, “they aren't going to win many games down the stretch. The guys who were here last year, even if they didn't play much, they saw what it takes in terms of dedication.
“You'd like to say defense is your No. 1 priority, but if we're going to win, hard work has to be our No. 1 priority and defense No. 2. We got outworked (Friday) night, and if you get outworked, it doesn't matter if it's defense, offense or figure skating, you're not going to have success.”
McVay is dismayed at his team's lack of consistency to this point. But he can take heart in the fact that it wasn't until about this time last season that the Black Hawks took off.
Bethel Park was 3-7 when the holidays hit last season. Beginning Jan. 5, they went on a 15-game winning streak through claiming the Penguins Cup at Consol Energy Center.
“We obviously want to win a state championship, and we know that... winning right now is about coming together as a team and playing the way we need to play,” Lesnak said. “If we do that, we'll win in March. It's not about winning right now –– it's about winning in March.”