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Defending state champ Latrobe hockey team expects opponents' best

| Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Dalton Hunter brings the puck up ice as Adam Ferguson trails him during their PIHL playoff game against Hampton on March 7, 2013, at Kirk S. Nevin Arean in Greensburg.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Adam Ferguson celebrates his goal with Christopher Johnson during the second period of the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup championship game against Pine-Richland on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Greater Latrobe's Brendan Johns celebrates his goal with Christopher Johnson during the third period of the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup championship game against Pine-Richland Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Fresh off a state championship and a season that saw the Latrobe ice hockey team finish 20-3, the Wildcats return to the ice looking to repeat in the 2013-14 campaign.

But if the start of the season is any indication, another Pennsylvania Cup isn't going to be gift wrapped for the Wildcats.

After going 1-2 in the St. Margaret Foundation Fall Face-Off Tournament where Latrobe defeated perennial Class A powerhouse Mars before losing to Class AAA teams Canon-McMillan and eventual champion Seneca Valley, it's evident the Wildcats will get their opponents' best effort after their successful 2012-13 campaign.

“They know we've got the target on our back and have got to work hard,” Latrobe coach John Winebrenner said. “The team goal is to get back to states and repeat.

“The boys already know from St. Margaret's it's going to take a lot of hard work to get back there. Teams aren't just going to hand it to us. We have a target on our backs so it's a little added pressure that we've got, and we have to overcome that every time we play somebody.”

After losing leading scorer Josh Singley, defenseman Robert Vasinko and goalie Shane Brudnok to graduation, Latrobe has some key pieces to replace but returns several strong players from last season's team as well.

Offensively, the Wildcats welcome back Dalton Hunter, Nathan Winebrenner, Adam Ferguson, Brendan Johns and team captain Chris Johnson.

Ferguson, a senior, is the top returning scorer after tallying 43 points.

Those five combined for 70 goals last season and return as five of the Wildcats' top seven scorers from a year ago.

John Winebrenner labeled Hunter, a member of the U-16 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite team, as the team's top offensive player who has a rare combination of size and speed.

“With his size he's more like a power player,” John Winebrenner said. “He's got tremendous speed and size to go along with it. Nobody will get in his way normally.”

The Wildcats figure to be strong defensively as well, returning senior Joe Wright as well as Drew Tonks. Sophomore blue liner Daniel Staffen, Hunter's U-16 Penguins Elite teammate, also returns and adds skill and toughness to the defensive group.

Junior goalie Tim Ruppen replaces Brudnok between the pipes. Despite allowing five goals to Seneca Valley in the St. Margaret's tournament, Ruppen allowed just two goals in the Wildcats' other two games, an encouraging sign for John Winebrenner.

“He's showed some promise early in the season, shown he's ready to step up to the challenge,” he said.

Nathan Winebrenner led Latrobe with three points in the St. Margaret's tournament, while Hunter chipped in with two goals in just two games.

“I was pleased with what I saw,” John Winebrenner said. “We came up a little short but we were in a tough bracket with Mars, Canon-McMillan and Seneca Valley.”

While defending their title won't be easy, the Wildcats plan to stick to their aggressive offense from a season ago that was so successful and approach each game with the same mindset on their road to a title defense.

“One game at a time, that's the way we approached last season and that's the way we're going to approach this season,” John Winebrenner said.

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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