Thomas Jefferson hockey finds winning formula again
With eight games still to play in the PIHL regular season, Thomas Jefferson already has scored more goals than it did during any of the past four seasons.
No surprise, the Jaguars also already have surpassed their win total for any season in five years.
“We're off to a very good start; last year we never made it to seven wins,” said coach Bill Crousey, whose team (9-5) is riding a three-game win streak and is in first place in Section 1-A. “There's no doubt we definitely have some skill guys up front, and the kids are getting a lot more experience on a game-by-game basis.”
Thomas Jefferson has 87 goals in 14 games, or 6.2 per contest. They haven't scored that many in a season since 2007-08. That also happens to be the last time the Jaguars finished with a winning record.
The Jaguars boast four of PIHL Class A's top 25 scorers in junior captain Zach Uhlyar (45 points in 14 games), sophomore Tommy Kimmick (32 points in 13 games), senior Matthew Bowers (22 points in 11 games) and junior Brendan Mason (21 points in 12 games).
The top line of Uhlyar, Bowers and junior Brian Zovko has combined for 48 goals. Uhlyar ranks third in Class A in points and goals (24).
“He sees the ice so well, and he always puts himself in a good spot to make a play,” Crousey said. “Matt Bowers, he just clears space; he hasn't met anybody he doesn't like to check. And Brian has made great strides passing.”
Bowers, an alternate captain, is the only senior — an encouraging sign for a program that has Penguins Cups on its resume but has posted mediocre records in recent years. Before last season, Thomas Jefferson moved down to Class A because of its enrollment.
“That's what I'm hoping, that the best is yet to come,” Crousey said. “But even this year, they have a chance to be a pretty good team. We have our moments where we are just that right now. But there are times when we're not paying attention to the details that make you work hard and play to your potential as a team.”
As it often is in hockey, that's exhibited most on the defensive side of the ice, where Thomas Jefferson has struggled at times this season. In half of their games, the Jaguars have allowed five goals or more.
“(Junior goalie Nick Ripepi) stands on his head to help us out,” junior defenseman and alternate captain Kevin Ringling said. “As long as we can find a way to keep the goals against down, we know we'll usually score enough to keep us in games to win them.”
Junior Kevin McCormick, sophomore Brad Delenko and freshman Michael Krieger compose the rest of Thomas Jefferson's defense corps, with Bowers and Zovko also taking shifts on the blue line.
Thomas Jefferson is coming off a 6-3 win against Serra Catholic that was significant not only because it left the Jaguars in control of the section title race but also because Crousey said it was the program's first victory against the Eagles.
“I believe that next year we're going to have a great team because almost all of our team is underclassmen,” Ringling said. “But we don't have to wait until next year. We have enough talent we can win now.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.