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Latrobe hockey team hoping to make run in season's 2nd half

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 6:15 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Latrobe forward Adam Ferguson pursues the puck against Erie Cathedral Prep during their PIHL Class AA game Dec. 19, 2013 at Kirk Nevin Arena. The game ended in a 6-6 tie.

Last season, the Latrobe ice hockey team rolled through Class AA on its way to a 20-3 record and a state championship. This season, the Wildcats have scrapped their way through 10 games to compile a record of 5-4-1.

Although their record may be hovering around .500, the team is still developing. The 2013-14 Latrobe team believes that they're in a position to peak at the right time.

Despite losing key contributors from last year's squad to graduation, Latrobe entered the season confident that with a few tweaks to their aggressive offensive schemes and some progression as a team, they could be successful. But through 10 games this season, it's clear that the Wildcats are still adjusting.

“It's been a period of adjustment so far, that's exactly what it is,” Latrobe's coach John Winebrenner said. “We have an aggressive system, but we've been adapting the system to fit some of the younger guys. We've been making the appropriate changes to see what works best for them.”

Winebrenner's alterations have led to a balanced offensive attack. So far, six players have double-digit point totals.

“With the changes we've made, lots of guys have made tremendous progress,” Winebrenner said. “It's more of a team effort this year”.

Seniors Chris Johnson and Adam Ferguson have led the effort so far for the Wildcats. Johnson has notched 14 goals and 26 points in the young season. Ferguson leads the team in assists and has accumulated 21 points.

Latrobe also has received major contributions from forwards Brendan Johns, Dan Johnson and Dalton Hunter.

Ferguson, a co-captain who tallied a hat trick in the team's last game — a tie against Erie Cathedral Prep — echoed the sentiments of his coach.

“It's been hard but the younger guys have been stepping up,” he said. “They know their roles. It's not an individual show in Latrobe. It's a team effort.”

While the Wildcats' offense has maintained its scoring touch this season, its defense is still a work in progress. The team has struggled to reproduce last season's defensive dominance. In 10 games, the Wildcats have allowed 54 goals. Last season, the unit gave up just 31 goals in 19 games.

Despite their struggles, it's a unit that Winebrenner believes will improve as the season goes on.

“We just have to be more consistent,” he said. “Normally we don't have too much trouble scoring. We've got to focus on the other side of the ice.”

Thanks to the solid defensive play from seniors Joe Wright and Drew Tonks, as well as Nathan Winebrenner and big-hitter Dan Staffen, the Wildcats have reason to believe that there is room for growth.

First-year starter, goalie Timothy Ruppen, also figures to improve with more experience With the first half of the season already in the books, the team knows it has to ramp up the intensity after the holiday break.

It's a challenge they welcome, according to Ferguson.

“We've been in high-pressure situations before,” he said. “We've been there. It is going to be all up to everybody performing their roles and trusting that.

“As a team, we want to come back firing in the second half of the season.”

While duplicating last year's success has proven to be a difficult task, this year's Latrobe squad believes its best hockey is yet to come.

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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