Western Pa. hockey teams rely on high-scoring tandems
Kittanning has seemingly always relied on a robust offense to spearhead it toward success.
That's why when the Wildcats lost Heinz Koster, the PIHL's top scorer last season, to graduation, linemates Hunter Grafton and Christian Miller knew they'd need to step up, and they have.
Dual threats have typified the offenses of most local PIHL clubs this season.
Grafton, a junior, and Miller, a sophomore, sit atop the scoring charts in Class A. Grafton has 53 points (25 goals, 28 assists) in 12 games. Miller has 52 points (27-25) in 12. They finished last season second and third in Class A, in reverse order, behind Koster.
“We talked between ourselves and said, ‘We were two and three last season, why can't we put up the same numbers?'” Grafton said.
“They knew Heinz was good, but they wanted to show they could do it together and as individuals,” Kittanning coach Jamie King said. “They're both competitors and tough players.”
Grafton credited the Wildcats' depth with allowing him the opportunity to continue playing with Miller. While some teams may need to split up their top two scoring threats to balance their lines, Grafton said Kittanning has enough depth to afford him the opportunity to log consistent minutes with Miller.
At the other end of the spectrum is Freeport. Senior Gregory Newman and junior Cole Hepler have provided enough offense to buoy the normally defensive-minded Yellowjackets to the top of Section 3-A with a 9-2-1 record. Newman leads the team with 23 points (8-15) in 12 games. Hepler, who has played only eight games, has 16 points (11-5).
Deer Lakes also has found enough offense in sophomore Zach Luniewski (14-14) and junior Thomas Lisowski (15-10). Despite the Lancers' 4-8-1 record, the pair, in their return to varsity hockey, have made the Lancers a handful for opponents.
More akin to Kittanning in style is Plum.
After opening the season winless in their first four contests, the Mustangs opted to pair senior Andrew Walters, last year's leading scorer, with emerging junior Joey Randazzo. The results have been impressive.
“We started the season with Joey on a different line, but we had a really slow start,” Walters said. “Once we started playing together, assists picked up, goals picked up. It's definitely been a good adjustment playing with him.”
After scoring only four points in his first four games, Walters recorded 25 over the next seven. His 29 points (16-13) are sixth in Class AA. Along with Randazzo's 20 goals, third in the classification, Plum has righted its ship and won four of its past six contests.
“Last year, I scored over half of our goals,” Walters said. “This year, they've been split more and spread out. I've been able to be more of a playmaker.”
Junior Jordan Gable, who finished second in scoring for Plum last season, shifted back to defense. While describing Gable as one of the best support players he's played, Walters said has enjoyed the goal-scoring boost that Randazzo has provided — and the offense Gable now provides from defense.
“(Gable) has that ability to make it easier on the offense and put the puck in the offensive zone,” Walters said. “We have a little more leeway when he's out there.”
Stephen Catanese is a freelance writer.