Butler hockey team enters PIHL playoffs on a roll

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The regular season can be a roller coaster.

Now that it's over, Butler's hockey team is happy to be going up a peak and not descending into a deep valley.

The Golden Tornado had a strong finish to the regular season. The squad won five in a row and six of its last seven games heading into the PIHL Penguins Cup Class AAA playoffs.

“It's funny because a lot of this started from a loss on Senior Night to Pine-Richland,” Butler coach Mike Guentner said. “What we talked about in the game was that it was the first time we had been ‘beaten' this year, where the opponent was just better than us and the bounces didn't go our way. To that point, we were used to winning games or beating ourselves.

“That night, we realized some teams might be better than us. Some players made a point to finish strong and make sure we are a contender and are where we belong.”

Butler finished atop the Section 3 standings for its first Class AAA section title since 1993.

“I don't know if I can even put it into words what it means,” Guentner said. “It was interesting after the game. Everyone had split emotions. They thought it was awesome, but at the same time, they thought this is where we'd be all along. We celebrated it a little, but as soon as we walked out of the locker room, all of our attention went to the playoffs. We'll celebrate whatever is waiting for us at the end of the season.”

The Golden Tornado enter the Penguins Cup playoffs with a 13-7 record, a No. 3 seed and a first-round bye.

Guentner is thrilled with the way his team responded this season.

“This feels more comfortable. At least we have felt what it's like to be beaten. We have gone through rough patches and now we know what kind of team we can be even in the worst situation; that's a good feeling,” he said. “It's more challenging not facing adversity and then, all of a sudden, it's the first round of the playoffs and you fall behind early.

“We know we are extremely resilient. We have an extremely positive bench attitude. Our theme lately is to be positive aggressive. Everything we do is aggressive, but we make sure it has a positive effect on the team; I think our positive attitude has a lot to do with our success.”

Another key to the team's success was a lineup tweak. Marcus McCall moved to defense, and defenseman Dalton Scott shifted to forward.

“We thought we needed more speed up front and some better hands on the blue line,” Guentner said. “Dalton is the fastest player on the team. I don't think anyone in the PIHL can compare to his speed dot to dot. Marcus has great vision. He can break the puck out and generate scoring chances up high. Ever since we made the change, we've been on a hot streak. It doesn't work if those players don't buy in.”

Butler went 10-11 in last year's regular season and reached the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Canon-McMillan blanked the Golden Tornado, 3-0, in the postseason opener. With 11 seniors on its roster, Butler hopes to make a deep playoff run this year.

“I'll do whatever it takes to motivate my team,” Guentner said. “Every game and every practice since Christmas, I've told them that the clock is ticking. I've reminded the seniors that the opportunities to put on the Butler jersey and take the ice as a brotherhood are winding down and they need to make the most of it while they still can.

“They have embraced it. It's gotten to the point I don't have to say it anymore and they are the ones talking about it.”

It has been a successful year for Butler's entire organization. In addition to the varsity squad, the junior varsity (11-6) and middle school (10-6) teams clinched winning records.

“I don't know if it has ever happened at Butler. I am sure it has, but it's been a long time since all three teams have had a winning record,” Guentner said. “It's really great.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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