Coach hopes to bringing winning experience to Ringgold
It didn't take long for Ringgold hockey players to get acclimated to their new coach.
Shortly after Josh Werner found out he had been chosen to lead the struggling team, he got started immediately.
“I found out on May 6 that I had gotten the job,” Werner said. “We're starting our second week of practice today.
“We're playing in a summer league this year and we'll also be having an off-ice conditioning, weight training, and team building program.”
Hockey is not a varsity sport at Ringgold, which means it doesn't get support from the district that varsity sports do.
“Myself and the assistant superintendent met with Coach Werner last week,” Ringgold Athletic Director Ron McMichael said. “But these are mostly Ringgold students and we're going to look into ways we can support them.”
McMichael said he is looking into helping the team secure training facilities and transportation.
“They don't get the supplies, equipment, and transportation assurances like other teams, but we're going to try to help out in any ways we can.”
Ringgold competes in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League's Open Division, which signifies that the team's roster includes players from other schools.
The Rams' current roster features 23 players, including four from Belle Vernon Area and one from Charleroi Area.
The team is currently practicing at Bladerunners Ice Complex in Bethel Park. They'll move over to their home rink, Rostraver Ice Garden, for the season.
Werner has been around his share of successful teams and hopes to bring that success with him to Ringgold.
He began playing hockey when he was 8 years old. He played at the junior-varsity level for Ringgold before moving to play varsity at Serra Catholic in McKeesport.
He continued playing in college at California University of Pennsylvania from 2009 to 2012.
Werner was a member of the Vulcans' CHE team, a two-time national semifinalist and four-time league champion.
His first three years of high school he played for the Mon Valley Thunder before playing for the Pittsburgh Jr. Penguins his senior year.
Last season he served as an assistant coach for Serra Catholic and was head coach of the Mon Valley Thunder Bantam B team, which captured a championship.
“For me, I'm more of a defensive-minded coach,” Werner said. “I want to go back to basics, play strong defense and capitalize on other teams' mistakes. I've done my homework and I know that last year the team gave up almost 40 shots per game. I'd like to cut that in half.
“We're going to look to get back to basic skills and basic hockey.”
Werner said the team has adapted well to the changes he has brought to the program.
“The first meeting ... the locker room was kind of quiet,” Werner said. “I didn't really know what to expect, neither did they. Everyone loosened up though and we had a really good practice. I still catch them in some bad habits but that's to be expected. All of the kids listen well and have done what I've asked. They know what to expect now and they skate really hard. There's a real thirst for knowledge.”
Werner said he's very grateful for the warm reception he's had from parents of the group.
“Honestly, the parents are what make the season,” Werner said. “Especially being a club team and not having the full support of the school, the parents are so supportive. It's constant fundraising and travel.”
The New Eagle native said there is a booster club that helps with fundraisers and other activities for the team.
“Everything has been real smooth. That's good for me because I can focus on what I need to do as a coach,” he said. “I love watching kids succeed and strive to get to the next level. It helps when you have a support system like we do here.”
Werner said he wants his players to be leaders on and off the ice.
“I want them to be good role models,” Werner said of his teams. “We have a lot of older guys that the younger players look up to.”
He wants his players to strive to be their best in the classroom as well.
“I want our team to have the highest grade-point average of all the sports teams at Ringgold,” he said. “Besides that, I really want to build a program that the players and Ringgold can be proud of. I want to better the relationship between the team and the school district. I also want to boost attendance at games.”
One way he hopes to achieve the latter is by making sure his team appears at other Ringgold sporting events.
“I really want to build the excitement,” Werner added. “I want to get the kids out in the community and really be involved ... be a part of a larger team.”
The team is looking for players and anyone in grades 6 through 12 is eligible to play. For more information contact Werner at 412-722-6979 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Even if you've never played before, you can play,” he added. “We're always looking for more players.”
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2667.