Freeport hockey team posts 7th straight win
The Freeport hockey team continued its torrid midseason pace in PIHL Class A on Tuesday night.
The Yellowjackets won their seventh consecutive game with a 4-1 victory over Section 4 rival Deer Lakes at the Ice Connection in Valencia.
Two early goals by Cole Hepler and a short-handed goal in the third period by Hunter Kepple propelled Freeport (8-3-2, 18 points).
“The ones we lost early were close, then we tied two,” said Freeport coach Dave Hepler, explaining the winning streak. “We played Quaker Valley and Mars, two of the best teams, but we were in those games. It was just a matter of confidence then.”
Both teams remain in contention for one of eight berths in the Penguins Cup playoffs.
With Freeport ahead 2-0 with 10:02 left in the third period, Deer Lakes (6-7, 12 points) was on a power play when Freeport's Michael Frazetta was called for tripping.
After a brief skirmish for possession in front of the Freeport net, Hepler broke loose, but his shot hit the crossbar on the other end.
Soon after, Robert Reichenbaugh stole the puck from Zach Luniewski near the Deer Lakes net. Reichenbaugh passed to Kepple, who scored with 23 seconds left on the Deer Lakes power play to put the Yellowjackets ahead 3-0.
“That was kind of a deflater,” Lancers coach Todd Luniewski said. “You could see it in the boys' eyes on the bench. I thought we played a real good third period, but that took the wind out of us for a little bit.”
Hepler rifled a shot past Lancers goaltender Johnathan Lang just 3 minutes, 23 seconds into the contest. He took a pass on the left wing side from Connor Dlubak, who was stationed at the middle of the blue line on a power play.
Hepler scored again on a power play, this time unassisted, only 6 seconds after Deer Lakes was whistled for too many men on the ice.
The goals were Hepler's 18th and 19th this season.
“It's always big to get a quick 2-0 lead,” Dave Hepler said. “Everybody settles down. We don't want to get everybody to relax, either. We kind of lulled for a while, then got it back.”
After the early Freeport goals, Lang and the Lancers settled down and slowed the game's pace.
Hepler was attempting to get the hat trick, but Lang made a save on a breakaway. Lang stopped the Freeport sharpshooter again with 15.9 seconds left in the first period when Hepler tried to sneak a shot past Lang after racing down the left side of the rink.
“Johnathan kept us in the game,” Coach Luniewski said. “He made a lot of nice saves on two-on-ones, breakaways. He kept us in the game.”
Deer Lakes finally solved Freeport goaltender Matt Huston as Johnathan Merlo broke up the shutout with 4:52 remaining.
Stone Haberstroh's insurance goal with 2:56 left concluded the scoring.
Freeport and Deer Lakes will play again Feb. 11 and Feb. 20.
George Guido is a freelance writer.