Sewickley Academy hockey finding success in return to ice

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Hockey is back.

Not only have the Penguins recently resumed action after the NHL lockout, but the Sewickley Academy Panthers have returned to the ice.

After the program's year-long hiatus, the team has regrouped in time to succeed in its inaugural season in the first year of the Independent School Hockey League.

“Last year was kind of sad because we thought we were going to have a team and a lot of kids didn't show up,” senior goalie and team captain Hayden Moyer said. “But this year was nice. I thought we were just going have sort of a building year where me as a senior just helped some of the younger kids get prepared for when we have a real team. But it looks like we can play.”

The Panthers can definitely play. With just one game left — Feb. 11 against Western Reserve Academy — on their regular season schedule, they stand 4-4 overall and 4-3 in league play, despite a roster of just 11 players.

While a short bench can be a challenge in games, it also leads first-year head coach Ryan Patrick to get creative in practice in order to keep each session moving with so few numbers.

“It's very challenging to do practice,” Patrick said. “I've never been in that type of experience before so it's a little tricky but we've gotten it to work and practice has gone well. We've finally started to come together as a team.”

That togetherness was evident in their most recent contest against Kiski Prep, a team that beat the Panthers 7-4 in their first meeting this season. Yet, the Panthers were able to return the favor against one of the league's top teams with a 3-2 overtime win on a Bobby Hapanowicz game-winning goal in the extra frame.

Defensively, the Panthers have relied on junior Connor Zierden to anchor the blue line while classmate Erik Dietrich has helped to lead the offense. But the team will look to all of its players for strong performances on the ice as it heads into the Independent School Hockey League Tournament.

“I'm hoping to put the best showing forward that we can at the tournament,” Moyer said. “I want to use the next game as a ‘what do we need to do when we go to the tournament' game. It's not so much a win or lose since we have the seeds almost set already for the tournament.”

But whatever result the postseason tournament brings for the Panthers, the 2012-13 campaign was one that moved the program into the right direction.

“It's good to have the support of the school and be a part of it since most hockey programs around here are all club and independent teams,” Patrick said.

With a surging talent pool coming up from the middle school and even lower school ranks, the Panthers will have a bright future and a seemingly growing roster in a league that also is hoping to grow to 12 teams in the coming years.

“We look to continue to build on our success,” Patrick said. “We're only going to be losing two players next year. We've got some freshmen coming in and look to have a fuller bench next season and just continue to grow with this league. As it grows, we'll grow and look to be a contender for years to come.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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