Kittanning, Ford City players begin workouts for newly combined PIHL hockey squad
The colors have been picked for the combined Armstrong High School hockey team. Almost everything else remains up in the air.
Though the start of the PIHL varsity season is still three months away, the first dry-land and on-ice workouts have begun for the new squad, which will combine players from successful programs at Kittanning and Ford City starting this year.
The teams decided to put their merger into effect before the opening of the new Armstrong School District high school in Manor Township, and people around the program are viewing it as an opportunity to represent the new school rather than being part Kittanning and part Ford City.
“The kids really are excited about this. They're doing real well with ice practice, and there's a lot of good players out there,” coach Doug Anthony said. “We're going to be the first team to merge, and we want to show both communities what this has the potential to be.”
The drawback to the early merger is the ongoing debate about some of the specifics of the new school.
With instructions from the school board, the hockey club is ordering royal blue and orange uniforms, which Anthony compared to the NCAA's Florida Gators or the NHL's Edmonton Oilers. But no final decision has been made on a school name or mascot, which leaves the hockey program wondering what the front of their uniforms eventually will say.
“As far as we know, we're just Armstrong High School hockey for now,” club president Greg Toy said. “The students voted on the colors, as I recall, but we're waiting on the school board to get a mascot developed.”
There also is some degree of uncertainty on the ice, but working out answers to those questions is something Anthony and the players are eagerly addressing.
“What I'm worried about is how quickly everyone is going to find out their role,” Anthony said. “It is a feeling-out process, but we have (preseason) tournaments coming up in September and we'll find out who to put with who on the ice.”
“There's excitement with the coaches, the players and the parents. Both schools have a rich tradition, and we think the team is going to be very stout and very competitive in Double-A hockey,” Toy said.
Coinciding with the start of the new program is the reopening of the ice rink at Belmont Complex, which is scheduled to have its renovations completed in September.
Those renovations will bring a more modern feel to the new team's home and bolster the feeling that this season is a fresh start.
“Belmont's always been known to have one of the best ice surfaces in the Pittsburgh area. Now with the locker rooms and everything else being brought up to date, it really will be one of the best places for hockey in Western Pennsylvania,” Toy said.
With the improved arena and a wealth of good players, Anthony has high hopes for the team's first season. Though a championship is a lofty goal, the thought of winning a trophy before the school builds a trophy case is an exciting prospect for the club.
“There's definitely motivation there to win (the school's first title),” Anthony said. “We're merging two teams with a lot of good hockey players, and some people might assume we're going to run everyone over. But that's not going to happen without a lot of hard work from the players and support from people in both communities.”