Norwin hockey team looks to build off successful seasons
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The Norwin hockey team enters this season with plenty of confidence after back-to-back winning records and postseason appearances in coach Jim Reith's first two seasons.
However, this season's group looks quite different than the ones that had that amount of success.
While some key players return from the past two seasons, the Knights lost more than 10 players to graduation each of the past two seasons, leaving some inexperienced players to take their place this season.
“(There was) a lot of heavy experience there,” Norwin coach Jim Reith said. “Most of the players had 12, 13 or 14 years of experience because they'd come up through the travel ranks. We still have that this year. We just got hit hard by graduation and haven't replaced those players. So we have a lot of new players. It's just our job to blend that as best as we can, and we feel confident if we play a certain way we can still be successful.”
Norwin's most significant loss came up front, as captain and leading scorer Dan Merz graduated after recording 66 points (40 goals, 26 assists) last season. Merz also led the team in scoring during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, topping 20 goals in each campaign.
“A kid like Dan Merz offensively is going to come around once a generation, a kid who's going to put up 45 to 50 goals a year,” Reith said. “That's very, very special. Dan was arguably the top player in the PIHL last year, and probably the year before, too.
“… Are you going to replace all of Dan's offensive production? Quite frankly, no. But we'll tweak our system, and the players understand that. We expect kids who might have taken a little bit of a backseat to up their game because we're going to need them to.”
While Reith said Merz's scoring and leadership can't be completely replaced, the Knights will look to returning key players such as Timmy Palmer, Dante Youhon, Alex Moxie and Jonathan Shirley to provide offense from the forward position. Palmer finished second on the team in scoring each of the past two seasons, while Youhon added 15 goals last season.
Defensively, Norwin will be led by Eli Reith, a PIHL All-Star selection last season.
“We expect big things out of him,” Jim Reith said. “He can just do it all. He has an offensive upside. He just anchors it for us back there, and he'll log a ton of time.”
Newcomers Alex Pullekines and Sean Wallace will provide depth on the blue line.
In goal, Norwin will look to sophomore Anthony Barca and junior Joseph Powell to replace Chad Albert, who went 10-10 as the team's primary starter last season.
“We've got two kids there that are really coming into their own,” Reith said. “They're learning a lot. … That's the most difficult position to learn in maybe all of sports. I'm biased — I played goal for 20 years. When you look to build a hockey team, that's where you start right there, and we're working hard with those two. I think they're gaining confidence.”
While Reith said it would take some work to blend the returning players with the newcomers, the Knights' performance at the recent St. Margaret's Fall Faceoff tournament gave him some optimism. Norwin went 2-1 at the annual tournament, beating Shaler and Serra Catholic and losing to Hampton.
Reith hopes the team can build on that performance when the regular season begins next week. The Knights will open up the year with a game at State College at 7 p.m. Monday.
“System-wise, we look at playing as a unit in all three zones and configuring our system to our personnel. That's going to be really critical, so that's step one,” Reith said. “Step two … we're not looking at anything past Monday, when we open the season at State College. We have one game. We're going to look at it that way, and we're going to see where that takes us.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.
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