North Hills' success comes from total team effort
After starting last season at a slow pace, the North Hills Indians have made a dramatic turnaround this season.
Through its first 13 games, the team was 7-6 and leading PIHL Class AA Section 1. At that time last year, the Indians were 3-10.
“That just (shows that) every single person on the team has stepped up,” said senior defenseman and captain Brian Gapsky.
Everyone is contributing, and the Indians are playing as a cohesive unit.
“The depth of the team and the contributions from every single player and how they support each other … I think that really speaks to the team as a whole. There isn't one kid on the team that doesn't support each other,” said head coach Brandon Dudt-Mulzet.
After years of struggles, which included not fielding a varsity team in recent years, the current players have gotten a boost from their coaching staff.
“I think our coaches have stepped up a lot, and a lot of the little things that they've done to try and improve us have worked really well,” said Gapsky.
“They've been a lot more positive on the bench, and it's really helped us along the way,” said junior forward Hudson Fleming.
The team is on pace to have a winning season.
“That's a pretty big deal for us,” said Dudt-Mulzet.
The players want to improve each time they go out on the ice and are learning from their mistakes along the way. They have come further than they expected.
“We've just improved so much from the beginning to now,” said Fleming.
Patience and hard work got the team to the playoffs last season for the first time in five years.
“I think it's a big factor,” said Dudt-Mulzet. “They got to see that all of that led to something.”
It made a big impression on the players.
“It definitely does give us some experience so that you know what playoff hockey is like,” said Gapsky.
Most of the players from last year's team returned this season.
“We've had the same team the past few years, and I think it just took a few years for us to build up chemistry,” said Gapsky.
They also have learned more about playing PIHL hockey under the current coaching staff.
“All of the kids know what to expect and what's expected of them,” said Dudt-Mulzet.
The duo of sophomore Brett Berner and junior Tyler Heisel have led the team in scoring. They also were selected to play in the all-star game.
“They work really well on the ice together,” said Gapsky. “They really come out with clutch performances.”
Through 13 games, two of which Berner missed, they each had 28 points. Berner had 19 goals, Heisel 12.
“(Brett is) one of the youngest kids on our team, and he's done the most for our team,” said Gapsky.
Sophomore Tyler Volz has been impressive this season. Dudt-Mulzet called him the team's breakout player.
“Tyler Volz is so energetic. He gets us all pumped up,” said Fleming. “On the ice he's a hard worker. He never stops.”
Recent injuries could impact the team's final stretch of the regular season.
The Indians will be without one of their best defensemen, junior Tiernan McGrath, for the rest of the season due to an injury suffered in mid-January.
“All around, he's just a really small, fast kid,” said Gapsky. “He's always putting pressure on the puck. It's helpful when he's out there.”
Despite any adversity, North Hills is looking to finish the season strong.
“We're going to really step it up right now,” said Fleming. “If we stay at the top right now, we'll make the playoffs (and) we'll get a better chance of making it to the championship.”
Amanda Iannuzzi is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.