Norwin, Penn-Trafford hockey moving in opposite directions
For the second straight season, the Norwin and Penn-Trafford hockey teams find themselves on the opposite end of the PIHL Class AAA standings.
This year, however, the teams' roles are reversed.
Section-leading Penn-Trafford kept its strong season going and kept last-place Norwin out of the win column with a 9-2 victory last week at Center Ice Arena.
“I give Norwin a lot of credit,” Penn-Trafford coach Brian Lehneke said. “They have a short bench, and they never quit. Their guys play hard, and they were playing us hard. We usually do play hard every time we play each other, whatever the records are. You can just throw them out the door when you play them.”
The Warriors (8-4) and Knights (0-11) have swapped places from last season, when Norwin qualified for the Penguins Cup playoffs and Penn-Trafford finished 3-17-1.
Just as Penn-Trafford dealt last season with a lack of experience at key positions, Norwin is seeing the same issues.
“There are so many factors,” Norwin coach Jim Reith said. “We're young at some critical positions, and they're asked to play at a level right now where they're struggling, experience-wise. But they're getting better.”
“They're going through a rebuilding year, from what I've seen,” Lehneke said. “It's pretty much the same thing we went through. They had a lot of kids graduate last year.”
Norwin is also dealing with a lack of depth, as the Knights have just 10 skaters on the roster who have played at least seven games. By comparison, Penn-Trafford has 18.
“Every team we've played this year has pretty much had four lines, six defensemen (and) they scratch players,” Reith said. “For us, it's a (heck) of a challenge, and certainly that has something to do with (the struggles). When you have two lines, three defensemen and sometimes just two defensemen, that's a heck of a (challenge). And there's some frustration there when things don't go the way you want them to.”
Penn-Trafford showed off its greater depth in last week's victory. After Norwin scored to make it a 3-1 game late in the second period, the Warriors responded by tallying the next six goals to put the game away. Early in the third period, the Warriors scored two shorthanded goals in a seven-second span to make it 7-1.
The strong start followed by a disappointing finish continued a season-long trend for Norwin.
“The game could have gone either way until it just (got away),” Reith said. “And that's been the story for us: one bounce, one this, one that. And then it's deflating for the players because they're really working hard and it gets away. We've not been able to stop the tide, the game from getting away from us.”
Penn-Trafford captain Jake Miller figured in eight of the Warriors' nine goals, finishing with five goals and three assists.
“That's why he's our captain,” Lehneke said. “He's our leader, and he comes to play every game. He definitely brought his A game.”
With the regular season just past its midway point, Penn-Trafford and Norwin are focusing on different goals for the end of the season. Penn-Trafford led Butler by four points for the Section 3-AAA championship entering the week, as the Warriors looked to capture their second title in three seasons.
“We're just going to keep working hard,” Lehneke said. “Our whole team play has improved since last year, but you can always improve in all facets of the game every day. We're just going to take one game at a time and not look too far ahead. It's pretty easy to do that sometimes, but we're just trying to stay focused on the next opponent.”
Norwin, meanwhile, is focused on continuing to get better. Reith said the team is seeing improved play in goal. Looking toward the future, Reith said the Knights have talented players coming up through their developmental system.
“We knew it would be a struggle this year,” he said. “We wanted to stay at the (Class AAA) level, and we've got to find some answers for the rest of the way because we still have a slew of games to go.”