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Freeport uses balanced offensive, defensive approach

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Freeport's Nikc Zidek gets around Kittaning's Zane Wilowski during a game Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Brendon Zack carries the puck past Kittaning's Christian Miller during a game Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Stone Haverstroh beats Kittaning's Caroline Mundy to the puck during a game Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Justin Drzemiecki makes a drop pass behind Kittaning's Zane Wiclowski during a game Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Devin Christy passes the puck in front of Kittaning's Austin Choncek during a game Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Brendon Zack beats Kittaning goaltender Cameron Langham for a second period goal during a game Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's John Bird raps the puck around Kittaning's Austin Chonek Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Greg Newman defends on Kittaning's Christian Miller Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Jared Kapustik clears the puck against Kittaning Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Cole Hepler flips a back hand pass in front of Kittaning's Jacob Snyder Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Cole Hepler gets tripped by Kittaning's Nate Grafton Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Stone Haberstroh defends on Kittaning's Nate Grafton Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Justin Brzemiecki checks Kittaning's Christian Miller off the puck Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Cole Hepler celebrates his second period goal against Kittaning Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Cole Hepler celebrates his second period goal against Kittaning Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Kittanning goaltender Cameron Langham looks to make a save against Freeport's Cole Hepler (right) during a PIHL Class A regular-season game on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, at Belmont Ice Complex.
Freeport's Brendon Zack (18) and Justin Drzemiecki fight for the puck with Kittaning's Mike Kelly Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at Belmont Ice Complex. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

When the PIHL season opened, Freeport knew that it had a strong team.

If there was any concern, it was at the goaltending position. But three young goalies — sophomore Dominic DiGiacobbe and freshmen Matt Huston and Katie Hill — have filled that position quite well.

Through 20 games, Huston, DiGiacobbe and Hill were 6-3-1, 5-1 and 4-0, respectively. Huston was ranked No. 3 in Class A with a .901 save percentage through the team's first 20 games.

“I'm pleasantly surprised by (the play of all three),” Freeport coach Dave Hepler said.

Other younger additions to the team also have made an impact.

“We had a bunch of good freshmen that came up and some goal scorers came up and some defensemen came up, as well, and they are learning a lot more things from the veteran players,” Hill said.

“Everyone's contributed and that's what you need to do in a team sport,” Hepler said.

Through 20 games, the Yellowjackets were 15-4-1. The Class A, Section 3 champion — heading into the Penguins Cup playoffs, which began earlier this week — Freeport is a balanced team, not overly powerful on offense or defense.

“We're not trying to be either one of those. We're just trying to be a good solid hockey team every time we go out,” Hepler said.

Forwards Cole Hepler and Gregory Newman led the offense this season, scoring 32 points each through 20 games. On the blue line, Brendon Zack led Freeport's defense.

“I just feel like we have a really good group of kids, and they understand what we're trying to get done and they play together really well,” Dave Hepler said.

Freeport's weakness has been taking too many penalties.

“I'm pretty sure we're one of the most penalized teams in the league,” DiGiacobbe said.

Through Feb. 24, Freeport had the highest number of penalty minutes at 324. Mars was the next with 315.

In some games, Freeport was playing the equivalent of a whole period shorthanded.

“That cannot happen in the playoffs. You got one shot at it, you got three periods and that's it,” Hepler said. “You cannot give the other team an opportunity on the power play to put the puck in the net.”

Freeport has a strong power play, which helped to counteract some of the damage the penalties created. As the end of the regular season approached, Freeport was able to cut down on the number of penalties it was taking.

“It's gone down quite a bit, actually,” Hill said.

The coaching staff has been trying to emphasize the importance of staying out of the penalty box.

“The message is definitely getting across,” said DiGiacobbe.

Hepler said the Yellowjackets would have to play smart, clean hockey in the playoffs.

“They've gotta get into the game, focus, know what's at hand, be relaxed and play their game,” he said.

“As long as we're disciplined and everyone is on their game, (we) feel like we can beat anyone,” DiGiacobbe said.

Amanda Iannuzzi is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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