Latrobe seniors recall title team's success during their freshman season
The Latrobe hockey team is back seemingly where it belongs — in the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup championship.
The Wildcats are playing in the title game on NHL ice for the fourth time in the past six years — but for the first time in three years.
Latrobe (18-3), the No. 2 seed, will play No. 4 Pine-Richland (16-4-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
The 2010 team was the final of the run of three consecutive Penguins Cups and state championships for Latrobe. Since, the Wildcats were eliminated in an overtime semifinal by eventual state champion Bishop Canevin in 2011 and in the first round by Cathedral Prep last season.
That could have signaled the end of the Latrobe dynasty. Not so, the Wildcats are proving this season.
“This is a conversation we just had as a team out on the ice (during practice),” coach John Winebrenner said. “This is where we set out to be at the beginning of the season. This the goal at Latrobe, to get to the Penguins Cup.”
Led by senior goalie Shane Brudnok, defense has been the story of the Wildcats' playoff run. The team has allowed two goals in wins against Hampton (2-0, quarterfinals) and Chartiers Valley (3-2, semifinals).
That follows a regular season in which Latrobe's goals-against average of 1.62 led PIHL Class AA.
“Defense is what I've been pushing for all year for the guys,” Winebrenner said. “They know it's what wins championships. Offense can be created from good defense.”
The Wildcats' top line of senior captain Josh Singley, junior Chris Johnson and freshman Brendan Johns combined for 48 goals and 59 assists during the regular season, despite Johnson playing in only 13 games. They also have 10 of Latrobe's 14 points during the playoffs.
Freshman Dalton Hunter (two goals) and junior Adam Ferguson (a goal and an assist) have Latrobe's other postseason points. Those two typically skate on a line with junior Nathan Winebrenner. Led by alternate captain Feguson's 19 goals and 24 assists (second on the team to Singley in both categories), this unit accounted for 43 goals.
Combining the regular season and playoffs, Hunter is tied with Singley for most goals on the team with 21.
A third line of sophomores Tanner Shaffer and Ben Douglas and junior Josh Basenback has emerged as a reliable grouping.
“We have two lines right now that are rolling in the playoffs — and a third line we put together of young guys who are doing a good job as well being what we call the grinder line every other shift to give guys some rest,” Winebrenner said. “They're doing a terrific job as well, maintaining puck possession and keeping the pressure on other teams.”
Joining senior and alternate captain Rob Vaskinko as the core of Latrobe's defensemen corps are junior Joe Wright and Drew Tonks and sophomore Dan Staffen.
Singley, Vaskinko and Brudnok are the lone remaining holdovers who were key contributors the most recent time Latrobe won a Penguins Cup.
“Definitely, the experience helps,” Singley said. “We're just trying to pass that along to the other guys to get prepared for the game.”
Latrobe is facing a Pine-Richland team that has lost twice in 14 games since losing to the Wildcats, 4-1, Dec. 10.
The Wildcats' seniors know that they have, at most, two games left.
“I don't think it's kicked in yet,” Brudnok said. “We don't want this to end. But if it does, I just want to go out the same way I came in — with a state title.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.