Opportunities abound for Plum hockey team
Ten players were lost to graduation from last season's Plum hockey team.
Those players represented 43 percent of the Mustangs' roster, leaving coach Dave Stonebraker with a number of holes to fill.
Despite the roster turnover, Stonebraker says expectations for the upcoming season remain the same.
“We don't care who the opponent is, we're going to play hard and do everything in our power to compete,” said Stonebraker, entering his third season as Plum's head coach. “We want to win every single game. That's our goal. We expect the same out of the players coming up (from junior varsity) as well as those rostered at the varsity level.
“The new kids coming up have to learn what level they have to compete at, and it's up to our juniors and seniors to show them.”
Plum was a PIHL playoff team in the 2012-13 season, finishing with an 8-10-1 record. The Mustangs reached the second round of the Penguin Cup Class AA tournament before their season ended with a 5-2 loss to Bishop Canevin.
Among those who graduated from that team were PIHL all-stars Andrew Walters and Jordan Gable. Walters led Plum in scoring with 24 goals and 24 assists.
Another key loss is starting goalie Taylor Cestra.
Only two seniors are among the 12 players on this season's varsity roster, a sharp contrast to last season's senior-heavy club.
“Me and Zach (Kuhn) are the only seniors,” said forward Joe Randazzo, a PIHL all-star who led Plum with 27 goals as a junior. “We have a young team, so we're trying to guide them and help everyone learn the system.”
Junior forward David Stonebraker, the coach's son, was third on the team in scoring with 12 goals and 13 assists.
“I looked up to those guys (graduated seniors) last year,” David Stonebraker said. “We're really young, and even though it doesn't feel like it, I'm one of the older kids. My job is to lead the team this year.”
Randazzo and Stonebraker will play on the same line.
“The rest of our lines will be a fluid situation, but Joey and David will be together,” Dave Stonebraker said. “They both can score goals, they both have excellent speed, and they're not afraid to muck it up on the physical side. They'll be a tough pair to compete against.”
The rest of Plum's forwards include juniors Blake Biertempfel, Thomas Kelsesky and Austin Samarco and sophomores Zach Keller and Stephen Shields.
Coach Stonebraker believes scoring will be a group effort.
“The goals will come. It starts with our defense forcing turnovers and creating odd-man breaks,” he said. “Any number of kids on our team can put the puck in the net. We expect scoring from three lines.
“There's no way we can count on two, three or four players. Every player has their role on this team. We're looking to the whole team for offense and the whole team for defense.”
Joining Kuhn on defense are junior Colin Chaffey and sophomore Zachary Nolan.
“Defense is going to be one of our strengths. The players we have coming up have a good amount of experience as call-ups from the JV team,” coach Stonebraker said. “We have great talent on the blue line.”
Anchoring the defensive unit is Kuhn.
“He gives us tremendous leadership, and he's a smart player,” coach Stonebraker said. “He's very seldom out of position.”
Plum will look for additional defensive help from its forwards.
“When we have five players on the ice, we want five who play offense, and five who play defense,” Stonebraker said.
Junior James Borriello takes over in goal after backing up Cestra last season. He saw action in four games, going 2-1 and posting a 1.70 goals-against average and a save percentage of 0.938.
Borriello turned away 28 shots in shutting out Franklin Regional, 7-0, on Feb. 1.
“James is an experienced goalie, and we expect absolutely zero falloff,” coach Stonebraker said. “We're looking for him to be a leader back there.”
Backing up Borriello will be sophomore Tyler Kurtz.
Plum is in Section 4-AA with Hampton and Pine-Richland.
“They're both good teams,” Randazzo said. “We've had trouble against Hampton. We played good against Pine-Richland my sophomore year, but last year, we struggled against them.”
The Mustangs open their season against defending Section 1-AA champ Moon on Oct. 28 at 9 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Ice Arena.
Stonebraker knows he'll have to be patient as a coach with his young team.
“It's a young, rebuilding team, and they have to become comfortable with the level of play and speed at the varsity level. They're going to make mistakes, and there's an adjustment that has to take place,” he said. “But the players have a strong commitment. They want to work hard and get better, and it shows.
“I like this group of guys and their compete level, but most of all I like that they're hungry to grow as athletes and as a program.”
Dave Schrecengost is a freelance writer.