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Serra Catholic hockey team looking for consistency

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 1:36 a.m.

For Serra Catholic alum Brian Boehm, coaching the Eagles hockey team has been, in his words, “a labor of love.”

So much so that he's kept the job this season despite now living about 75 miles from Serra's home rink in Rostraver.

“The gas is killing me,” said Boehm with a laugh, noting he moved to Fairmont, W.Va., after his wife took a job at a hospital in Clarksburg, W.Va. “But it's worth it to be around the kids on this team. It becomes a labor of love.”

A love that Boehm, a 1993 graduate who has coached Serra the past seven years, will give up after this season.

The Eagles are young, but they're hoping to give Boehm a proper send-off.

“He's been a real good coach for the program,” senior captain Tyler Speis said. “He gives what we need to become better players.

“We only have a handful of upperclassmen, so the future looks strong for Serra hockey. But we want to win for Brian, too, now.”

Monday's 8-1 win over South Fayette snapped a three-game losing streak and helped Serra improve to 7-6. That short losing skid immediately followed a five-game winning streak.

That inconsistency also shows itself in the fact that the Eagles have beaten title-contending teams Freeport and Westmont Hilltop but have struggled at times against weaker teams and have been blown out on a couple occasions.

“I was talking to our AD, Bill Cleary, before the season, and he has a girls basketball team that's pretty similar,” Boehm said. “With young kids, you just never know. You laugh about it all the time — you just never know what team is going to show up that night.”

On a team that has used 18 players so far this season, only three have been seniors and one a junior. That's 14 freshmen and sophomores, many of whom are playing significant roles.

“We're not used to having this inexperienced of a team,” Speis said. “When I was young, we always had the majority of our players upperclassmen. So it's been a little different. In the past, when we'd have a minor setback, there were enough people who had been through that before that we knew we'd come back. It's a matter now of seeing ourselves getting through things and taking it from there.”

Serra's seniors — Speis, fellow forward Nick Vacsulka and defenseman Tyler Kresl — share the team's captaincy. Speis, who wears the “C,” led the Eagles in goals (17), assists (15) and points heading into the week. Alternate captain Vacsulka had 26 points, one behind freshman Roman Kraemer for second on the team. Speis, Vacsulka and Kraemer typically form Serra's top line.

Jacob Gunn (the Eagles' lone junior) and sophomores Gian Oliver and Bill Purdue also are prominent among Serra's forwards. Sophomore Ian Ritchie is in his first year as the starting goalie.

“Ian is the perfect example of the ups and downs of a young player,” Boehm said. “He has some great nights where you see he's going to be one of better young goalies in the league. But goalie is a very tough position to be inexperienced.

“The physical ability's there. It's just about the mentality you have to have, to be there and be prepared every night. With young guys, sometimes it takes a little longer to bring that.”

Ritchie's plight is not unlike that of Serra as a team — full of talent and potential, yet raw and still gaining experience.

They're running out of time for Boehm.

“The experience the young guys are gaining is critical to the future success of the program,” Boehm said. “And you can see it's the next step for success in the second half of the season.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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