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Upper St. Clair hockey gets boost from captain's words

| Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Upper St. Clair's Connor Ackerman skates with the puck against Bethel Park Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 during a game at Penguins Pond in Station Square. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Upper St. Clair's Matt Boyd puts a shot on Bethel Park goalie Austin McGinty Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 during their game at Penguins Pond in Station Square. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Upper St. Clair's Austin Cassidy skates with the puck against Bethel Park Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 during a game at Penguins Pond in Station Square. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Upper St. Clair's Denis Kirstein and Sean Allebrand identified a potential turning point in the Panthers' season — like any good hockey coach and captain would.

First-year coach Kirstein asked the players to arrive 30 minutes earlier than usual for their game against Mt. Lebanon this past Thursday after the Panthers had lost three of their previous four following a 5-1-1 start.

Kirstein had each player come prepared to go in front of the team and say two things he'll do to help the team improve and win. Allebrand, the captain, stole the show.

“He said something I thought was really cool,” Kirstein said. “‘I'll make one play that could help change the momentum. It could be a hit, a shot, a goal, pass or breakout. Whatever it is to help the team and help the team improve.'

“I thought that was outstanding by someone of his character and leadership.”

Upper St. Clair responded with a 6-1 win against rival Mt. Lebanon.

“Momentum is a huge thing in this game, and momentum can be gained in a bunch of different ways,” Allebrand said. “So being a leader on a team, you kind have to step up and be that guy who delivers the big play and changes the momentum — whether it's a big hit or a big goal or a big pass.”

Or knowing the right thing to say.

“It got us all on the same page in that we talked about how we can improve the team as individuals,” Allebrand said. “And we really focused on not just saying what we're going to do to improve but on actually doing it. And I think we did that (Thursday) night.”

Allebrand delivered the first goal of the game, and the Panthers' alternate captains, Connor Ackerman and Austin Cassidy, also scored.

Cassidy, a sophomore, is fourth in Class AAA in points with 31 in 12 games. His 17 goals rank third. Allebrand is the leader in points among Upper St. Clair's defensemen.

Ackerman, a senior, is third on the team in points with 15. He is on a line with junior Jacob Puccetti and sophomore Matt Boyd. Boyd is second on the team with 21 points and Puccetti fourth with 14. Thursday, Cassidy skated with sophomore Logan Stork, who was moved up from defense, and junior Mike McCombs.

Seniors Nick Berardone and Dan Crocket and sophomore Jack Gavett typically have been a third line, with sophomore Matt Koch and junior David Grimm also contributing at forward.

Allebrand leads a defenseman corps of juniors Matt Woomer and Will McVay, sophomore Kasey Colcombe and senior Pat Lydon.

Senior Michael Ambrose has been starting in goal for Upper St. Clair dating back to the 2011 PIHL Penguins Cup and Pennsylvania Cup state championships. He joins Allebrand, Cassidy and Ackerman as Panthers representatives at next month's PIHL All-star game.

Kirstein, a Bethel Park graduate, returned to the South Hills after coaching at Seneca Valley for the past four years.

“It's working out great,” Allebrand said. “He's always positive in the locker room and toward us. He's tried to focus on the bigger picture. Overall, he's a good coach and a good guy, and we're looking forward to more seasons with him.”

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