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Hockey Insider: Future looks bright for Baldwin hockey program

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Jacob Naylor is proud of how far the Baldwin hockey program has come since he joined the varsity team. He takes even more pride in what the Highlanders can do once he graduates this spring.

The future for Baldwin looks just that bright.

Languishing through a 1-19 season two years ago, the Highlanders are a playoff team for the second consecutive season in 2012-13. And, with a young new coach and a core of skilled underclassmen, the arrow is only pointing up for Baldwin.

“It's good to know we're back to winning seasons and making the playoffs,” said Naylor, a defenseman and the team's captain. “After a year... where we won only one game, it's definitely great to see it in much better condition again. To be back now feels great.”

Baldwin completed an 11-8-1 regular season Friday and was scheduled to open the PIHL Open Class Chiefs Cup playoffs Sunday. The Highlanders averaged more than 6 12 goals per game and boasted three all-stars — Naylor, junior forward Anthony Alaimo and senior goalie Ryan Beerman.

And while Naylor, Beerman and alternate captains Tim Cass and Kaleb Reckley form a solid core of seniors who have been central to the Highlanders' turnaround, a rookie coach and an all-sophomore top line have been key contributors, too — ones that will remain for years to come.

Dakota Becker centers Dylan Davey and Brian Dee on a unit that combined for 92 points during the regular season. Each play on traveling AAA teams and had combined to play together only 10 times through the Highlanders' first 19 games, yet the trio put up 2.1 points per player per game.

“It's good for the future of the program to a really high degree because we only graduate four or five seniors this year but we still have a good, solid base of players for next season and a couple years after this,” Naylor said.

Joe Powell plans on being their coach for all of that time. A 2005 Baldwin graduate who went on to win a Division III club national championship at California University, Powell took over as the Highlanders' head coach this past fall.

“You can tell he cares about the program more than just somebody just showing up to coach,” Naylor said.

“It's worked out, actually really well with him. We're a much more disciplined team and we have more of a sense of how good we are and how good we can be.”

Powell played on Baldwin teams that posted winning records while playing in Class AAA as section rivals to some of the PIHL's biggest powerhouses.

“We definitely want to get back to Triple-A,” Powell said. “I want to get back to playing Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon — that's who I grew up playing against.

“It's just we had 12 varsity roster players and another five or six JV call-ups. Numbers is a big reason we dropped to the Open Class. But now we have a developmental program that has 60 kids in it kindergarten to fifth grade, so the numbers are coming back.”

Becker and Dee (who is an alternate captain) led the team in goals during the regular season. Alaimo had a team-high 18 assists — many going to linemates Mark O'Hanlon and Tyler Rush, who are junior varsity team call-ups. Reckley, Cass and Adam Gift have formed another effective line.

Naylor and junior Ryan Doran typically spent the season as Baldwin's top defense pairing, with freshman Kenny Dee and sophomore Trevor Dutkewicz also logging plenty of ice time on the blue line.

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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