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Penn-Trafford hockey off to hot start

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 8:31 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn-Trafford Star
Penn-Trafford captain Jake Miller has combined with linemates Jordan Eisenstat and Jonah Graffius for 24 goals and 51 assists this season.

After a three-win season in 2012-13, things are looking up for the Penn-Trafford hockey team a third of the way through the 2013-14 season.

The Warriors (5-2) entered the week in first place in Section 3-AAA and outscoring opponents by a 39-23 margin.

“It's been a lot better,” captain Jake Miller said of the season. “It's great to win, especially (after) having three last year. We have more wins than we did last year, and I just think we're a whole new team, honestly. Everyone got a season under their belt, and everyone's been playing great.”

Coach Brian Lehneke summed up the difference between this season's team and the one that struggled to a 3-17-1 finish a year ago with one word: experience. After making a run to the Class AAA Penguins Cup semifinals in 2011-12, most of Penn-Trafford's roster graduated, leaving the Warriors with few experienced players last season.

“We saw all last year that they were skilled enough,” Lehneke said. “The age difference means a lot when a ninth-grader is playing against an 18-year-old senior. It's a little different this year; we have a little bit more older guys. We know what to expect. A lot of the kids, except for our captain, weren't even on the team two years ago. They didn't know what to expect. Now they know, they got their feet wet and they're doing exactly what we asked them to do.”

Lehneke said the experience can especially be seen on the offensive end. After averaging fewer than three goals per game last season, the Warriors are averaging more than five a game so far this year.

The top line of Miller, Jonah Graffius and Jordan Eisenstat is leading the offensive charge. Miller leads PIHL Class AAA with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists), one spot ahead of Graffius (nine goals, eight assists). Eisenstat is tied for third in the classification with 12 points (seven goals, five assists).

“I think we break out the puck very well,” Miller said. “Me and Jonah just seem to find each other on the ice. The same (is true) with Jordan. We just click, and we've been scoring every game pretty much.”

Penn-Trafford is getting production beyond its top line. The second line of Cameron Williams, Daniel Cox and Marc Anthony is coming on strong, and defenseman Andrew Power is tied for seventh in Class AAA with 11 points (three goals, eight assists).

“When you're (playing) winning hockey, you have more than one line scoring,” Lehneke said. “You get secondary scoring. That helps a lot.”

Defensively, Penn-Trafford is relying on a goaltender tandem of junior Eric Phelps and senior Jake Proskin. Phelps started five of the first seven games, recording a 4-1 record with a 2.80 goals-against average and .895 save percentage.

“We're pretty much emphasizing defensive play, and we're trying to get that better, too,” Lehneke said. “Our goals-against are a lot better in the last five or six games.”

Penn-Trafford was off this week and is scheduled to return to the ice with a game against Bethel Park Dec. 5 at Center Ice Arena in Delmont.

While the Warriors appear poised to return to the playoffs, Miller said the team isn't getting ahead of itself.

“We're just going from game to game, trying to win every game and see where it goes from there,” he said.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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