Norwin overcomes lack of defensive depth
This year's Norwin team is not as deep as last year's. But the experience gained in making it to the second round of the PIHL Penguins Cup Championship series is making up for that.
They are also feeling more comfortable with head coach James Reith's high-tempo style.
“On the ice, it helps being able to run our system effectively, and it helps to win hockey games,” said junior defenseman Eli Reith.
Through its first 16 games, the Class AAA Section 3 team was 8-8.
“We feel like we've left some points on the table,” said Reith. “If we can learn from that, and we will, we could be an interesting team to play against in the playoffs, that's for sure.”
The team has improved over the past few months and has adapted to its new makeup.
“I think the challenge for us is that we were inexperienced in a few key positions this year,” said James Reith.
The Knights lost a number of their players to graduation, including two all-star goaltenders.
The critical position has been filled by senior Chad Albert, who is playing his first season for Norwin.
Although he is new, his teammates are confident in his abilities.
“He handles the pressure well,” said Eli Reith. “It's very comforting knowing that you have him in goal.”
Reith is the team's top defenseman, one of only three. Reith,
Christian Slafka and Robert Romeo are logging more minutes than most blue-liners.
“It is a lot to take on, but I wouldn't have it any other way,” said Reith.
The extra ice time has improved their game. Their speed is better and they have cut down on goals and improved on the penalty kill.
“I don't think we're wearing down,” said Reith. “I think we're actually coming into form.”
Norwin has been undisciplined at times and will have to correct the problem before heading to the playoffs.
“We feel that if we can get that straightened out, we'll be in good shape,” said James Reith.
The defensemen have even more pressure to stay disciplined.
“With the amount of time we play, we have to stay out of the box, that's the bottom line,” said Eli Reith.
The lack of depth can sometimes have an affect on the team's endurance.
“We usually come out pretty strong in the first period. We've gotta learn to play the second and third like we do the first period,” said senior center Dan Merz.
Short-handed on defensemen, the players are committed to playing team defense. The Knights also rely on their offensive talent.
“Everyone does what they can for the team,” said Merz.
Merz is team captain and centers the top line, also known as the gold line because of the color of their practice jerseys.
“They're just pure gold because of the points they put up every night,” said Eli Reith.
Merz led the team with 31 goals and 19 assists, including four power-play goals and four short-handed goals through 16 games.
“Dan can do it all,” said James Reith.
“He's really meant a lot to this team. He's contributed offensively every night.” said Eli Reith. “It would be very difficult to be in this place without him.”
Junior wingers Tim Palmer and Dante Youhon have been major contributors, too. Through 16 games, they had 30 and 26 points, respectively.
Merz, Palmer and Eli Reith were selected to the all-star team.
“It's an honor to be selected,” said James Reith. “I think its…a really nice experience that the PIHL puts on for them.”
The team's second line, known as the blue line, is comprised of senior center Marc Swankler (27 points) and junior wingers Alex Moxie and Jonathan Shirley.
The top two lines are dangerous every shift, said James Reith.
The coaching staff feels good about all facets of the team. Now it is just a matter of executing at the right time.
Amanda Iannuzzi is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.