Butler hockey team hopes to build on All-Star momentum
Mike Guentner coached his team to another thrilling victory.
Although, this time, Butler head coach Guentner was at the helm of the Northeastern team as it posted a 3-2 overtime win over the Southwest last Sunday at the PIHL Class AAA All-Star Game at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center.
Guentner had some familiar faces on the squad in Golden Tornado players Joe DiMartino, Connor Scott, Troy Double, Jonathan Fair and Logan Rothbauer.
“It was exciting. You get a little scared when you look at the rosters because it's the South Hills versus us,” Guentner said. “Even though most of those guys don't play together on the same high school team, they played together in amateurs, or at least they did at one point.
“They have chemistry and talent, which is always a scary combination. I hate to steal a word from Butler, but I think we had a very ‘gritty' performance. We had a bunch of kids who don't really know each other quite as well come together, outwork them and get the win. It was fun.”
No Butler player registered a point in the game, but Fair, a sophomore defenseman, played a big role in keeping the powerful Southwest Conference scoreless for the first 40:30 of the game.
“This experience was exciting for the sophomores. I think the Butler guys had a great showing, especially (Fair),” Guentner said. “He does that for Butler all the time. To do that against the league's best, that was fun to see.”
Fair was happy just to make it to the All-Star Game. He never thought he and his Northeastern teammates would shut down such an explosive offense for a majority of the game.
“It was a great experience. I wasn't really expecting to be here,” he said. “My coaches helped me out a lot this year. They train us, they set up our systems and they do everything we could want them to do, as players. My teammates helped me a lot as well. My defensive partner, Justin Wehrli, does everything for me and makes it easy.
“We just love each other as a team. To have (so many) people on the all-star team come from Butler, it's more of a team victory than an individual victory.”
Last year, the Golden Tornado became one of the PIHL's top stories when they bounced back from a 1-21 season to finish 10-12 and reach the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade. With a huge part of that squad back this year, including 11 seniors, Butler hopes to take a bigger step. The Golden Tornado (9-7) have three regular-season games remaining in an attempt to top last year's win total.
“Triple-A is wide open. There is really no powerhouse,” Fair said. “Any team that gets hot going into the playoffs can win the Penguins Cup.”
Scott is Butler's second sophomore all-star. He emerged this season to lead the squad with 23 points (8 goals, 15 assists).
“I am happy with my season,” he said. “I've been kind of slowing down lately, but my teammates help me a lot. My season was kind of a surprise, but it's good for the team.”
The Golden Tornado will rely heavily on Scott and its other young players next year when the team loses its strong senior class.
“There is a big gap we have to fill. There are a lot of kids in JV working hard who will have to step up,” Scott said. “I think we'll have a solid year next year if we can get everyone together and working hard in the offseason.”
Still, Butler's not ready to think about next season just yet.
“We need to win these couple games and get a good seed,” Scott said. “Anything can happen in the playoffs.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.