Butler hockey team seeking new identity
Butler's hockey team hoped the sequel was better than the original.
Last year, the Golden Tornado finished with its best record (10-12) since 2003-04 and reached the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade. With a majority of its players back, Butler wanted to keep the momentum going.
However, the squad struggled with inconsistency and injuries in the first half of the PIHL season, and the team entered the holiday break with a 6-5 record. Not bad, but not what the team had envisioned.
“We've struggled to really find ourselves midseason. We were trying to forge an identity, and we are not quite there yet,” Butler coach Mike Guentner said. “We had some big injuries and showed up to games not focused. We were starting to question what we were trying to accomplish as a team.”
The Golden Tornado's last game of 2013 was on Dec. 19, a 5-1 loss to Bethel Park. So, the holiday break gave Butler a chance for some self-analysis. The team got back into the gym and onto the ice and re-discovered its grittiness.
“We realized the games we were the most successful in were the games we hustled the most and tried to outwork our opponents,” Guentner said. “We are still a team that needs to learn how to win. We don't have that legacy like Bethel Park, North Allegheny or Peters Township. Winning is not something we are familiar with.
“We're still learning how to compete as an organization. It's something we're struggling with. It's a good problem to have. It's a lot better than trying to make a one-win season fun; we have been there, too.”
“Confidence is something you have to earn. We'd win a couple games and enjoy it and play with some confidence. But, we'd forget the things we had to do to earn it. Now that we figured out our identity, we know that we can take that into the second half.”
While the Golden Tornado took some time away from games and practices, Guentner made sure the team got back at it in preparation for its January schedule.
“We always make it a priority for the boys to enjoy a few days over the holidays. We run a pretty intense schedule, and we gave them some time to relax on their own. We avoided any holiday tournaments, too,” Guentner said. “Once we brought the team back together, we really got back into the gym hard. It doesn't take long to see that conditioning go away. That was a lesson learned from last year. We worked a little over break last year but not enough, and we really paid for it. We are pretty hungry to make a statement coming into the second half.”
Butler opened January's schedule with a 6-5 win over Canon-McMillan. The Golden Tornado rallied in the third period and held on for the win.
“We wanted to avoid what happened last year when we lost a close game and gave up the lead in third,” Guentner said. “This time, we went in tied 3-3 and came out victorious. The boys earned it. I tip my hat to how hard they worked off the ice in preparation for the second half.”
Butler got more good news when five of its players were selected to play in the PIHL Class AAA All-Star Game on Feb. 9 at 5 p.m. at the RMU Island Sports Center. Joseph DiMartino, Connor Scott, Troy Double, Jonathan Fair and Logan Rothbauer will play for the North East Conference squad. Guentner was named the team's coach.
“It is an honor for the whole team to send that many players. As far as I know, that's a club record,” Guentner said. “The coaches vote on the All-Stars and can't vote for their own players. The other coaches had a lot respect for what our players bring to the table.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.