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Penn-Trafford hockey team is finding some early season success

| Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 10:24 p.m.
Penn-Trafford captain Jake Miller has combined with linemates Jordan Eisenstat and Jonah Graffius for 24 goals and 51 assists this season.
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.

One might not confuse the Penn-Trafford hockey team with a bunch of chemists, but the Warriors have found the right formula.

Coming off a PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup semifinal appearance, the Warriors were hit hard by graduation prior to last season. They struggled to a 3-17-1 finish and did not qualify for the playoffs.

With almost everyone back on the ice, Penn-Trafford has morphed into a Penguins Cup contender once again. Through their first nine games, the Warriors (6-3) doubled their win total and are among Class AAA's top teams with 14 points.

So, what's the catalyst for one of the PIHL's biggest turnarounds?

“I think that has a lot to do with everyone having great chemistry,” senior captain Jake Miller said. “Definitely, the development of depth has helped, too. Our second line has been playing well all year.”

Miller was the only regular back from the 2012 semifinal squad, which entered the Penguins Cup playoffs as the top seed but fell to eventual champ Bethel Park, 3-2.

“We had a lot of talent last year. We were just really young,” Penn-Trafford coach Brian Lehneke said. “Last year's team was really all first-year varsity players. It just took time for them to get used to things.

“I am not surprised we've done so well so far. I knew we could do it.”

Even though the Warriors took their lumps, they remained upbeat.

“You learn a lot from losing, I believe. Not that anyone likes to lose, but you learn how to win,” Lehneke said. “It would have been easy for them to just quit. They really didn't.

“It wasn't like we got blown out a lot. We just couldn't get that final push. They worked hard all spring, summer and up until now, and it's paid off.”

Penn-Trafford's players believed the groundwork they laid last season and in the summer would help them make a strong push this winter.

“We knew that we'd all be back together. We just had to keep working, and it'd pay off,” said senior alternate captain Andy Power, who was a call-up in 2012. “It's starting to this year, and we're looking for it to continue.”

The Warriors found some chemistry last year when Jordan Eisenstat, Jonah Graffius and Miller came together on the top line. They remain a force this season with a combined 24 goals and 51 points.

The team found an effective second line this year with Marc Anthony, Dan Cox and Cameron Williams, who did not play high school hockey last season. That trio has produced 13 goals and 21 points.

“We are playing well together, and the second line is putting up points and that helps out a lot,” Miller said. “It was definitely frustrating to play last year and lose that many games. It was tough on the whole team. We worked harder, though, and we are showing that we can be one of the better teams in the league.”

Kenny White, another newcomer, has helped the Warriors on defense, as well. So far, they've outscored opponents 46-28.

“We're just focused and trying to play better in our defensive zone,” Power said. “We are doing the little things this year that we weren't doing last year. We are helping goaltenders (Jake Proskin and Eric Phelps) more, too, and they are playing well, too. All around, it's been a good defensive effort, and we're getting scoring from all three lines.”

Penn-Trafford hopes to make it to the Penguins Cup title game.

“I think anyone could go real far and win in the playoffs. I don't think there's one team that's just so far ahead of everyone. I think all of the teams are pretty close,” Miller said. “We just want to keep this going.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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