Defensive dominance pacing Quaker Valley hockey
The Quaker Valley hockey team wanted to begin its postseason run with a defensive mindset.
Getting a shutout was just an added bonus.
The Quakers (23-0) blanked No. 8 seed Deer Lakes, 6-0, in the Penguins Cup quarterfinals March 7 at Airport Ice Arena. With the win, they advanced to the semifinals, where they played No. 6 Kittanning Monday at Robert Morris' Island Sports Center.
“We went in with the mindset of ‘take them out early (and) get some momentum going into the next game,' ” said sophomore goalie Parker Sherry, who stopped 17 shots in the victory.
The shutout was Sherry's sixth of the season and his fourth in his past six games. The sophomore shut out playoff teams Thomas Jefferson, Freeport and Mars in three straight games in late January and early February.
But shutouts have become a team goal for the Quakers, who allowed 21 goals in the first 23 games of the season, a stretch that included nine shutouts and eight more one-goal defensive performances.
Quaker Valley's 21 goals allowed ranks first among teams in all levels of the PIHL and is 22 better than the No. 2 team in Class AA.
“We certainly do take a lot of pride in our defensive ability,” junior defenseman Alex Quinn said. “It's a really important thing. I mean, we try to get shutouts — we try to shut down the opposing team because that really helps our team win. And it also helps out our offense if we can keep the puck out of our zone.”
While coach Kevin Quinn said defense is a team focus, he said it helps to have a shutdown pair in juniors Ryan Lottes and Alex Quinn. The duo, who have played as a pair since seventh grade, frequently match up against the opposing team's top line.
“It's always a challenge to shut down the other team's top line,” Lottes said. “It's a battle every game, but at the same time, you're trying to generate offense, too. You can't just play passive the whole time; you also have to help the forwards out when you're there and generate offense. (But) I look forward to the challenge of seeing if you can keep that top line from scoring the entire game.”
Beyond the pairing of Lottes and Quinn, the Quakers boast defensive depth with seniors Stefan Henschke, Stephen Wei and Nathan Weil, as well as underclassmen Trenton Ruprecht, Hunter Wolz and Jack Woodburn.
The depth enabled Coach Quinn to move sophomore Adam Pilewicz to forward before the season. While Pilewicz does play defense on special teams, his move to forward benefited the offense, as he tied for the team lead in scoring during the regular season.
The offense helps the defense, too. Quinn matches his top lines against his top defensive pairings frequently during practices, and he said the subsequent battles ultimately help both improve.
“If we have a game during the week, the practices might be the best challenge they've had in some of the weeks we've had,” Quinn said. “Not all teams have the same practice schedule we do, but we feel it's vitally important.”
Lottes said for the Quakers to keep winning, the defensive focus had to continue.
“Shutting it down on defense is one of the bigger focuses of our postseason,” he said. “If you don't let them score, the worst it could be is 0-0 going into overtime. So it's definitely something that Coach Quinn stresses — that we need to be sound defensively and not give up any freebies.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.