New season, new coach for Ringgold hockey
Josh Werner remembers making the Ringgold hockey team roster 10 years ago as a junior-varsity player. It was quite an honor for Werner, then an eighth grader.
“Back in the early-'90s this program was good,” Werner said. “I remember all the kids wanting to play for Ringgold.”
Werner, 24, took over head coaching duties in May after the 2012-2013 Rams trudged through a 3-17 season. The New Eagle resident, who was an assistant coach six years at Serra Catholic (his alma mater), wants Ringgold to return to the glory days of his youth.
Ringgold opens its season at 6:55 p.m. today when it hosts Connellsville at the Rostraver Ice Gardens. The Rams compete in Section 4 of the PIHL Open Class with Baldwin, Carrick, Connellsville and Keystone Oaks.
“I wanted to come back and try to rebuild the program and get it back to a winning tradition,” Werner said. “We want to do what it takes to get these kids to the next level.”
Werner's plan started with a talent infusion. Since hockey is a club sport and can use players from nearby school districts, Werner landed brothers Scott and Dan Marek (Belle Vernon Area) on defense, goalie Riley Coineman (Charleroi) and forward Aaron Major (BVA) who played for the Pittsburgh Select, a high-level travel team.
Then, the new coach instituted an ambitious off-season conditioning program with workouts at both Ringgold High School and Blade Runners in Bethel Park. The sessions included weight training, cardiovascular work and plyometrics.
“It was hard at first, but once the kids saw an improvement they bought in to it and I never heard a peep,” Werner said. “They knew they didn't do well last year and wanted to get on the winning side instead of being crushed by 10 goals every game.
“I've never coached a team where there are kids from other districts,” he added. “There was a lot of team bonding. … Now the kids know each other like they go to school together every day.”
The Rams won-loss record last season weren't the ugliest numbers. The team's leading scorer finished with just 15 points while the top goaltender carried an unsightly goals-against average of 10.28.
In all, Ringgold surrendered 228 goals in 20 games (11.4 per game) while scoring just 42.
Among the returning players Werner is counting on are forward Alex Nageli, second on the team last year with 11 points (six goals, five assists), and defenseman Cody Telegraphis. Returning goaltender Ben Cafeo will split time with Coineman.
Werner said high-scoring games will not be acceptable, even if his team wins.
“Sound defensive hockey – that's what I preach and that's what wins you championships,” he said. “I don't want to get in a shootout with any team. Block shots, stick in passing lanes and keep other teams to the outside. We want to come out and hold other teams to roughly 20 shots and put up at least 30 to 35 shots per game (on offense).”
Werner said it's reasonable for Ringgold to aim for winning its division this season.
He knows the program captured an Open Cup title four years ago after nearly a decade of futility – although that seems as long ago as his playing days with the program. He's hoping for a similar turnaround.
“One of the things I take pride in is teaching these kids lessons they can take outside the ice rink,” Werner said. “I'd like to start a tradition here, get things back to the way they should be and having kids want to play for Ringgold again.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2635.