New Franklin Regional hockey coach sets goals for upcoming year
New Franklin Regional hockey coach Brian Kurtz knew a challenge awaited him when he took the job before this season.
Actually, it was one of the reasons he took the job.
“I accepted the job with the excitement of it being a rebuilding type of program,” said Kurtz, who spent five seasons with the Plum hockey program, last working as the Mustangs' junior varsity coach. “I know they've struggled the past couple years, and I just welcome the challenge of kind of rebuilding the program from the ground up and looking to get Franklin Regional back to where it used to be.”
Franklin Regional most recently appeared in the Penguins Cup playoffs during the 2008-09 season. The past three seasons, the Panthers won one game combined — including an 0-19 campaign last year that saw them outscored, 188-31, by their opponents.
With that recent track record, Kurtz knows a fix won't come easy, nor will it come overnight.
“Our goal this year is not wins and losses,” he said. “Our goal is to be competitive. I look to at least be in each game we play and be there in the third period, to be able to compete and be in that one goal a game each way. If we can do that and be successful and compete for all three periods, I think some wins will come our way with that.”
Kurtz said he and the team began preparing for the season over the summer with off-ice conditioning.
“I've gotten a very good response, not just from the varsity kids but through the organization,” he said. “There's just a buzz, I think, with the change, and it seems like the players are excited and they've responded real well to what I'm trying to sell them. They've been working hard since late July to try to turn it around. I'm very excited so far with what I've seen.”
Kurtz said the team will need to use some call-ups from the younger levels throughout the season because of some low numbers, but he is excited about the players he has returning.
Offensively, Franklin Regional will be led by forwards Austin Avampato and Zach Bearley. Avampato, a senior, was the Panthers' second-leading scorer last season with seven goals and six assists. Bearley, a junior, contributed three goals and three assists.
Senior Corey White will lead the Franklin Regional defense.
In net, the Panthers will look to Nick Paonne and Daniel Turner.
“We do have seven seniors this year that I'm hoping will kind of take leadership,” Kurtz said. “We have a younger team beyond those seniors. I have a couple ninth-graders and some sophomores as well.”
Kurtz said the team held three scrimmages during the preseason, winning twice against Gateway and losing to Serra Catholic.
The Panthers will begin the regular season with road games Friday against Erie Cathedral Prep and Monday against Plum before returning home for a game against Chartiers Valley at 6:15 p.m. Nov. 8 at Center Ice Arena in Delmont.
While Kurtz said he was excited for the challenge of a new job, he cautioned he still views it as a rebuilding process.
“I want to change the culture of the team, hold them accountable and implement a lot more fundamentals and build the team from the ground up that way,” he said. “...Realistically, we know we're not going to compete for a division championship this year. But if we can come from zero wins last year and get to five to seven wins this year, I think it'll be a huge accomplishment and a step in the right direction.”