North Hills leading scorer helps create opportunities for teammates

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

While teams in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League focus on stopping Brett Berner from scoring goals, opposing players sometimes forget about his North Hills teammates.

Berner, as of Jan. 17, was leading the Indians — who were in first place in their section — in points with 15 goals and 11 assists. Tyler Volz, his linemate, trails him by eight points, and no one else on the team has more than 10 points.

“We've seen other teams focusing on him a lot more this year, and they try to deny him the puck,” said Ed Berner, 50, the North Hills junior's father and an assistant coach for the team. “He understands that he's a marked man.”

The added attention affords Brett Berner's teammates more scoring chances, such as when freshman winger Sam Urbanek scored his first varsity goal Dec. 16 against Chartiers Valley.

Volz carried the puck down the left wing and passed it to Berner in a two-on-one rush. The Chartiers Valley defenseman attempted to block Berner's shot, which left Urbanek open in front of the net for a successful backhander.

“When someone gets their first goal, it's the same great feeling I had when I got my first varsity goal,” said Berner, 16, of Ross Township. “It builds confidence in your abilities, and you need that from everyone to be a competitive team.”

Prior to Urbanek's first varsity goal, he had just one point in nine games but has had three points in four games since then.

“That was my first game back from a broken hand, and scoring really made my confidence go up,” said Urbanek, 15, of Ross. “I think it's important for all of us to be confident, and scoring always helps that.”

While Berner creates opportunities for his teammates just by being on the ice, the North Hills coaching staff is finding ways to put him on the forefront of more offensive rushes. A center, Berner's responsibility away from the offensive zone usually has been to give his defensemen support.

“Brett prides himself in being a two-way player, and the center is counted on to be a defensemen when the other team is in our zone,” Ed Berner said. “We've kind of given that responsibility to other guys so that Brett can freewheel and try to create more opportunities with his speed and skills.”

The adjustment has worked, as Berner has scored five of his last seven goals on the rush.

“Most of his goals are a direct result of his hard work and effort,” said North Hills head coach Brandon Dudt-Hudson, 30, of Ross. “His speed and one-on-one skills really set him apart from a lot of his colleagues.”

Although Berner has had more freedom to be creative, he has paced himself more in games this season.

Injuries to North Hills' players on the top two lines have prompted Berner to play on nearly every other shift.

“You need to have your energy at the end when a game is close,” Berner said.

“I play for chances and capitalize on them the best I can, but it's not that I sit back and wait for chances. I try to be smart about how to approach each situation, whether it's taking advantage of a one-on-one situation or getting the puck to someone else when I'm double-teamed.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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