Young Gateway ice hockey team set to begin Open journey
In the offseason, Gateway varsity ice hockey head coach Gene Perhac and other organization officials looked at how young the varsity team would be this season and made the decision to dropped down to the PIHL Open class from Class AA.
Perhac said the move was made to give the players a chance to develop their varsity games and gain experience before moving back to AA next year.
The regular-season is fast approaching for the Gators, and Perhac is excited to see what his youthful squad can accomplish.
“We look forward to facing some new teams,” Perhac said. “We haven't faced teams like Greensburg Salem and Hempfield for a while. There are some well-established programs in the Open class. We'll miss the matchups in AA, but we are looking forward to this challenge.”
Perhac said the team, which includes nine sophomores and seven freshmen, has picked up the system pretty well so far.
“We worked a lot on implementing the system in practices,” Perhac said.
“With the young guys, it's about learning to react to the system on the ice instead of stopping and thinking before they go. It's going to be a process that will take some time. You have to react in a varsity game when everything is going so fast.”
Gateway players got a good chance, Perhac said, to test things in a scrimmage against neighboring rival Class AA Plum last week.
“Plum was a good test for us,” Perhac said.
“The score didn't turn out the way we would've liked, but we were able to work on a lot of things and learn some things. It was good for our young players to get a first-hand look at a varsity game and the speed of the game. They were able to measure themselves against a good team at the AA level, a place where we hope to be again next season.”
Perhac said the team will have a couple more scrimmages before the season opener against Greensburg Salem on Nov. 1 at 8:15 p.m. against Greensburg Salem at Center Ice Arena in Delmont.
There are only two seniors on the roster this year — forwards Brenden Hamilton and Zach Dusch.
They helped the Gators go 8-11 in the Class AA regular season last year and qualify for the playoffs.
Hampton edged Gateway, 4-3, in the first round.
Dusch, the team's captain this season, split time between forward and defense last year, and he tallied an assist in the playoff loss.
He finished with the fifth-highest point total in the regular season with 13 (four goals, nine assists).
“Brendan and Zach have been very important to the younger kids,” Perhac said. “Zach has moved into the role of captain. Both Brendan and Zach have been through it the most, and they have been key to demonstrate what it takes and what it's all about with speed at the varsity level.”
The top four point scorers who combined for 97 total points last season were lost to graduation.
Other players back with varsity experience include juniors Luke Fossati and Alex Brown and sophomores Brandon Dusch, William McAllister, Ryan Taylor, Nick Falvo and Vaso Obrknez.
“Now, it's on their shoulders,” Perhac said. “They are realizing their new and increased roles.”
Sophomore Michael Mahilus and freshmen Nolan Baker, Mason Beltz, Quinn Cacolice, Tanner Davis, Garrett Hamilton and Matt Doman played for the Gateway freshman team last year, and the squad went 10-4-1 in the regular season and lost to Baldwin, 6-5, in the first round of the playoffs.
Sophomore goaltender Ben Shapiro takes over in net for Tyler Perhac, who now is playing junior hockey as a high school senior for a team in Florida.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.