High school hockey insider: Senior trio anchors Central Catholic's defense
For the better part of four years, they've manned the Central Catholic blue line together.
They share parts of the Vikings' captaincy, a strong familiarity with each other's games and a propensity for preventing opposing teams from scoring.
The senior trio of Neil Carleton, J.K. Freyvogel and Dylan Junker are the most tenured members of an experienced Central Catholic defensemen corps that has helped the Vikings post a 2.74 goals-against average — third-best in PIHL Class AAA.
“I've really been playing with them a lot from being a freshman, sophomore and even junior year,” said Carleton, Central Catholic's captain. “That really contributes to the chemistry we have now.
“It's really nice to have three senior d-men, and all of us play in all situations. Whether it's the power play, penalty kill or even strength, we play with each other. ... We all complement each other and have a lot in common, which makes for a really nice situation on the ice.”
It's made for a nice situation for the Vikings, who are in first place in Section 4-AAA at 10-7-2.
They have allowed only 12 goals in their past six games. That's attributable in part to the strong goaltending tandem of sophomore Kevin Dziubek and junior Brian Burger, to an overall commitment to the backcheck by the team's forwards and to juniors Kellen Carleton, Vince Trost and Justin Yeckel, who are the team's other three defensemen.
But the leadership shown by the unit's three seniors (in addition to Neil Carleton wearing the “C,” Junker and Freyvogel split one of Central Catholic's alternate captaincies) has set an appropriate tone.
“They've all been in playoff games, and they all know what it takes to win games,” Central Catholic coach Bill Connelly said. “And the big thing is their mindset. This is their senior year, and they're ready to go and are doing a nice job of keeping everyone focused.”
Neil Carleton, who sometimes is paired with his brother, is the most offensive-minded of the Vikings' defensemen. He has four goals and 12 assists in 17 games.
Freyvogel shares that mental aptitude for hockey, and Connelly notes he's strong in front of the net and in the corners. Junker possesses arguably the best shot of the three, but it's his skating that's his greatest attribute.
The defensemen and goaltending aren't the only reasons Connelly is quietly confident his team is capable of making a deep postseason run when the PIHL Penguins Cup playoffs begin next month.
Anthony Parrucci is seventh in Class AAA in goals with 20, and Jesse Yeckel also is averaging about a point and a half per game with 11 goals and a team-high 14 assists in 16 games played.
Alex Houser is third on the team in points with 17 in only 12 games played, and Eric Denk is tied for second on the team in goals with 11. Senior Chris McCambridge (five goals, 11 assists in 17 games) provides leadership as the Vikings' full-time alternate captain.
Of Central Catholic's losses, only one has come by more than two goals.
“Our goal this year is to get to Consol,” Neil Carleton said. “We haven't got past the second round the past few years, so we want to build some momentum going into the playoffs and ride that.”