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Talented Bethel Park squad thrives after sluggish start

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Bethel Park's Chris Stiak beats Upper St. Clair goaltender Michael Ambrose for a second-period goal at BladeRunners in Bethel Park on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Bethel Park's Chris Stiak takes a shot against Upper St. Clair at BladeRunners in Bethel Park on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Bethel Park's Jacob Worcester plays against Upper St. Clair at BladeRunners in Bethel Park on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Bethel Park's Derek Lesnak plays against Upper St. Clair at BladeRunners in Bethel Park pn Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Bethel Park's Chris Stiak plays against Upper St. Clair at BladeRunners in Bethel Park on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Bethel Park's Daniel Yost plays against Upper St. Clair at BladeRunners in Bethel Park on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Bethel Park's Tyler Kruszewski takes out Upper St. Clair's Sean Allebrand at BladeRunners in Bethel Park on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Bethel Park's Jacob Salak takes a shot on Upper St. Clair goaltender Michael Ambrose at BladeRunners in Bethel Park on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Bethel Park won the Class AAA Penguins Cup championship last season after getting off to a slow start.

The team is hopeful it can repeat history by converting an 0-2 start into another championship victory in the Penguins Cup playoffs which began this week.

“Every season I've had with Bethel Park, it started off a little rocky,” said senior forward and co-captain Jake Ewing. “We woke up quick this year. We're lucky it was only two games.”

Bethel Park has made progress since then.

“This year, from the beginning, we've had a lot of talent on our team,” Ewing said. “Over the time, we've developed a lot.”

The players started to play more as a team and less as individuals. Off-ice activities, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen, brought them even closer.

“As a team, we're more like a family,” Ewing said. “Whenever someone's down or we're having a bad game, since we're so close as a team, we can pick each other up and get back in the game.”

The Black Hawks were heavy on offense this year, so junior co-captain Derek Lesnak unselfishly moved to the blue line. He was the team's leading scorer last season.

“He's given of himself because he gave up his natural position to play defense to help the team,” Bethel Park coach Jim McVay said.

McVay's style is defense-oriented. He knows the oft-used cliché, “defense wins championships,” has proven effective over the years.

“He just reminds us a lot that if we have a strong defense, we're just going to be that much better of a team,” Ewing said.

Bethel Park's record through 20 games was 15-5. Some of those losses came against rivals Peters Township, which the Black Hawks defeated 2-1 in last year's championship game, and North Allegheny.

To win back-to-back championships, Bethel Park likely would have to play one of those two teams.

“If we happen to be matched up against Peters Township or North Allegheny, it would definitely be a tough game. We will prepare ourselves for what we're facing,” Ewing said.

McVay only looks for his players to play at their best. If they do, he doesn't mind if they lose, he said. However, he still believes they can play better.

“We just really need to take it up a notch because we've been beaten at all three aspects: forward, defense and goaltending,” McVay said.

No matter who they play against, Bethel Park will have to approach every game with the same attitude, regardless of the opponent's skill level.

“Every game is challenging. It's do or die,” McVay said. “The challenge is playing your best game when it counts.”

As defending champions, these players have faced those challenges before.

“As an older team, we know what it's going to take and what the consequences are. I feel like that does give us an advantage,” Ewing said.

Being the defending Penguins Cup champion doesn't give Bethel Park an edge in the postseason.

“That was last season, this is this season,” Ewing said. “No one has a Penguins Cup championship.”

Amanda Iannuzzi is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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