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Baldwin hockey looking forward to big test against Indiana

| Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, 9:54 p.m.
Baldwin's Brian Dee (19) battles Keystone Oaks' Joshua Gulden (15) during an early-season Open Class game. O'Hanlon had four assists in a 13-1 victory over the Golden Eagles.
Randy Jarosz | For the Tribune-Review
Baldwin's Brian Dee (19) battles Keystone Oaks' Joshua Gulden (15) during an early-season Open Class game. O'Hanlon had four assists in a 13-1 victory over the Golden Eagles.

The Baldwin hockey team is trying to change its identity. The Highlanders want to be known for strong, disciplined play on the ice.

So far, so good.

With 18 points in its first 10 games, Baldwin (10-1) emerged as a PIHL Open Class contender this season. The Highlanders hope to keep the momentum under first-year coach Jim Brown.

“We took over this program and there was no discipline, and referees didn't want to ref our games,” said Brown, a longtime youth hockey coach. “We're all on the same page now. We're not reinventing the wheel. It's basic hockey. We just have a great group of hockey players. They've bought into the system, and they deserve all the accolades.

“We are a young team, but we are trying to make a statement. This is a real good group. I am very proud of them and I feel fortunate to be involved with this team.”

The Highlanders' lone loss came to Hempfield, 5-3, but they rebounded to win their next six games by a 68-9 margin. That included a 12-3 triumph over Greensburg Salem, the team that knocked Baldwin out of the playoffs last season.

“We beat them and that's a big motivator for us,” Baldwin senior defenseman Ryan Doran said. “We just have to keep the pace going. We haven't taken anything lightly.”

The Highlanders face a key test Thursday when they visit perennial power Indiana (8-0).

“That's a big game to look forward to. We'll just have to pull together and see what we can do,” Baldwin captain Anthony Alaimo said. “Our team has been putting great effort out. As long as we keep playing like that, we'll be OK.”

Doran expects a close battle.

“They are a big, hard-hitting team. They have a lot of fast players,” Doran said. “We have to stick to our basic game. We want to worry more about our defensive end before we worry about the offensive end. They have a lot of skilled players. We need to really work on moving the puck to have success.”

Puck movement has been a strength for Baldwin this season.

“We are starting to pass more this year than in the past,” Doran said. “We're always positive. We don't focus on the negative. We don't point fingers. We are more disciplined this year, for sure. We don't want to get caught up in the stuff that happens after the whistle. We're staying away from that stuff and taking the power plays instead of giving them.”

The Highlanders have a balanced attack. Kody Becker leads the team with 14 goals and 30 points. Alaimo is second with 29 points, while Mark O'Hanlon has 24. Brothers Kenny (18) and Brian Dee (17) are next. Max Milan (16), Jake McCue (14), Doran (14), Paul Knerr (13) and Dom Carrlino (12) have reached double figures in points.

“Everybody goes in the corners and battles. They do what they have to do to get the win,” Alaimo said. “We are pretty balanced. We're not a selfish team. I think that makes us tough to play against because there's not that one player a team can try to lock down.”

Brown is confident his team is ready to contend for a championship.

“As long as we play our game and structured, we believe we can get that trophy,” he said. “We concern ourselves with ourselves. We think that we're the class of the division. Hopefully, we can walk our talk.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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