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Inside or outside, Mars hockey team reigns

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 11:34 p.m.
Freeport's Hunter Kepple (62) drives to the Mars' goal during a game at Penguins Pond on Pittsburgh's South Side on Wednesday, January 9, 2013. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Freeport Area High School's Jared Kapustik (#75) drives down the ice during a game against Mars Area High School at Penguins Pond on the South Side on Wednesday, January 9, 2012. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

Indoors or out, Freeport still has trouble with Mars when it comes to hockey.

Craig Mazzotta had two goals and two assists as the Planets beat the Yellowjackets, 4-1, on Wednesday night at the Penguins Pond temporary outdoor rink at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh's Station Square.

It was the first outdoor game Freeport had played during Dave Hepler's almost decade-long coaching tenure. It hasn't been that long since the Yellowjackets have beaten the Planets — but it might seem that way.

It was the seventh consecutive victory for Mars against Freeport.

“I was certainly looking forward to beating them today because they knocked us out last year so it could have been kind of revenge,” said Hunter Kepple, who had the Yellowjackets' goal.

In a rare back-to-back series necessitated by the compacted Penguins Pond schedule, Freeport plays again Thursday against Deer Lakes. The Yellowjackets (8-2-1) host Mars (10-2-1) in two weeks.

If the rematch is anything like the first meeting, expect chippiness. The teams combined for 24 penalties (11 by Freeport) and plenty of after-whistle jawing and shoving.

“We don't like them,” Kepple said, “and I'm sure they don't like us.”

The most recent time Freeport beat Mars was March 19, 2007, in the PIHL Class A Penguins Cup semifinals. Mars is 7-0-1 in the series since — and the Planets have played in every Penguins Cup title game since.

“When you go into the year, you know who the programs are that are decent programs,” Freeport coach Dave Hepler said. “I just say it's a rivalry with them because they're just a few miles from us, and that makes for a better game.”

Mazzotta scored 5:27 in while on a power play, and the Planets took a 2-0 lead with 43 seconds left in the first when Mazzotta set up Owen Vasbinder.

“This year, goals have been a little harder to come by for us than maybe they have been,” Mars coach Steve Meyers said. “But when you get that first goal and get a lead, the system falls right into place for you.”

By the time Mars' Max Master scored on the power play with 7:04 left in the second, the Planets had all the offense they needed in support of goalie Christian Knapp.

“We had a lot of opportunities, a lot of scrums in front of the net where we banged it off shins and this and that and everything else,” Hepler said.

The only opportunity Freeport capitalized on came with 2:57 left in the second when Cole Hepler came out of the penalty box and was sprung loose for a breakaway on a pass from Kepple. Hepler was stopped by Knapp, but Kepple buried the rebound.

Mazzotta scored an empty-net goal with 58 seconds left.

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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