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Freeport juniors to skate in hockey showcase

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 12:46 a.m.

Freeport juniors Cole Hepler and Brendon Zack launch javelins and baseballs this time of year, but pucks still beckon.

Hepler, Freeport's top returning javelin thrower, and Zack, an infielder for the Yellowjackets, will shirk their spring sports responsibilities during the next few days to participate in America's Hockey Showcase at Robert Morris University's Island Sports Center as members of Team Pittsburgh. Both hope ice time in front of college and junior club recruiters will help them in their pursuit of next-level hockey.

The 20-team, pool-play tournament, which features all-star squads of seniors and juniors from across the country, begins Wednesday morning and continues through Sunday. Team Pittsburgh opens with Team New York at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“I knew it was just a great opportunity to get noticed by whoever I might choose to go play for,” said Hepler, whose brother, Zach, a 2007 Freeport graduate, participated in the event.

“Any opportunity that comes, I'll pick the best from what is offered. I hope to play in the same league my brothers did, the (Ontario Junior Hockey League), or maybe the (North American Hockey League), where a couple of my teammates from the past couple years will be playing.”

Hepler, a forward, is hardly an unknown in Pennsylvania hockey circles. He has led Freeport in points each of the past three seasons — this winter, he finished with 22 goals and 16 assists. And he belongs to one of the area's premier amateur teams, the Class AAA Pittsburgh ViperStars.

But a few days of competition with standouts from Florida, California, New England and pretty much everywhere in between shouldn't hurt his efforts to garner attention.

Zack, who had 14 goals and nine assists as a defenseman for the Yellowjackets this past season, hopes the Showcase might serve as his big break.

“I know I still have another year of hockey. I figured they get to know my name, and hopefully I make Team Pittsburgh next year, so they'll see me again and realize, ‘Oh, this kid has talent,' ” Zack said. “I'd go anywhere to play hockey. I love this game.”

Both survived a three-day tryout in late March that involved about 80 players from the Pittsburgh area in order to make the team.

Team Pittsburgh coach Lou Biancaniello hopes he and his staff picked a group that will again contend for the tournament championship — Team Pittsburgh made the finals each of the last two seasons. But the ultimate goal, he said, is to burnish the reputations of Team Pittsburgh's players.

Both Hepler and Zack plan to catch the eye of busy recruiters without relying on selfish or showy play.

“I'll try not to do too much to impress the scouts,” Zack said. “You end up making big mistakes instead of little mistakes that everybody makes. You get noticed for the wrong reasons, I guess.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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