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Thomas Jefferson hockey team looking for strong second half

| Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, 9:39 p.m.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Thomas Jefferson's Tommy Kimmick knocks Freeport forward Thomas Intrieri off the puck during the Jaguar's 5-4 win on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at the Belmont Ice Complex in West Kittanning.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Thomas Jefferson's Zach Uhlyar pulls away from Freeport's Cassandra Suran on a second-period breakaway during TJ's 5-4 win on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at the Belmont Ice Complex in West Kittanning.

It has been seven seasons since a team other than Quaker Valley or Mars has won a PIHL Penguins Cup Class A championship.

Thomas Jefferson hopes to break that trend in 2014.

As usual, the Quakers and Planets sit atop the Class A standings with 20 points, while the Jaguars come out of the holiday break with the fourth-most points (13) and a 6-4-1 record. Their first win of the season was a 6-2 stunner over Mars to open PIHL play.

“Mars is a big win for us to start off the year. It's probably the most complete game we've played,” TJ captain Zach Uhlyar said. “We have lost some games that we felt we could have won.

“We're going into the games knowing we have the talent and drive to win. We have high expectations.”

The Jaguars have nine seniors on their roster and lost just one player from last year's squad, which advanced to the Penguins Cup playoffs but lost to Westmont Hilltop, 4-3, in overtime.

“The seniors have talked about it, and we want to make a statement our last year and be remembered by the putting best team on the ice as possible,” Uhlyar said. “Everybody is driven because this is the year to do it.”

Thomas Jefferson's offense has been productive. The Jaguars' 53 goals rank third behind Mars (72) and Quaker Valley (66).

Nick Tamburi (23 points) and Uhlyar (22) lead the team, and Tommy Kimmick and Brendan Mason have 18 points each.

“Zach and I have been playing together for the past eight or nine years — ever since mites. We play pretty well together,” Tamburi said. “We help each other out. We know where each other is on the ice. When one of us scores, you'll most likely see the other with an assist on the goal.”

While offense is nice, Uhlyar knows the entire team must help goaltenders Nick Ripepi and Jordan Blosl, especially once the postseason arrives.

“Our offense is really talented, and we mesh well together, but everyone has to help out on the defensive end,” he said. “We know we have the scoring power. We want to keep our goals-against as low as possible, and we need the forwards to help out on defense. We've been better, but it still needs to be better.

“Taking penalties has been the one killer, too. We're taking probably five or six a game. That can't happen if we want to be a top team. That's one thing we have to change coming back from the break.”

Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Crousey said he hopes his Jaguars find some consistency in the second half of the season.

“It's one of the things we tried to make clear. We need to come ready to play every night. We can play with the top teams and beat them, but we have to stay focused the whole 51 minutes. If we have a breakdown, it'll go the other way,” Crousey said. “Some of the games, we start slow. It's not a light you can turn on and off. You have to come ready to play. We have to be ready to go as soon as they drop the puck.

“When we're moving the puck and sharing it well and skating and working hard, we're a nice team to watch,” he added. “When things aren't going well, we have bad habit on focusing on the bad instead of pushing ahead.”

Staying healthy is a key for the Jaguars, too.

“We want to make another run in the playoffs,” Crousey said. “We had a couple guys injured for last year's playoff game. We want to stay healthy and play smart.

“If we play our game, we know we can make a run at the Penguins Cup.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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