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Franklin Regional hockey looks forward after season

| Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 6:55 p.m.
Doug Gulasy | Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional goaltender Sean McDonald makes a save during a game against Armstrong on Feb. 28, 2014, at Center Ice Arena.

The Franklin Regional hockey team finished its season last week without a victory for the third straight campaign. Despite the results, however, first-year coach Brian Kurtz said he saw plenty of room for optimism moving forward.

After a 2012-13 season that saw the Panthers finish 0-19, Kurtz said he spent this season focusing on fundamentals and skill development. While the team experienced rough patches, especially early on, Kurtz said the squad improved as the season wore on.

“We weren't as far along in the beginning as I would have liked, so the process is taking a little bit longer,” Kurtz said. “But where I saw our kids at the beginning of the year to where I see them now, I think the sky's the limit. I really have a positive and a good feeling moving toward next year and then the years after that that our program's back on the right track.”

The biggest improvements Kurtz said he saw over the course of the season came in the team's skating and puck movement. He said as the season went on, the Panthers began to adjust to the speed of the varsity game and had more success.

Franklin Regional's season ended with a 6-1 loss to Armstrong last week at Center Ice Arena. Captain Zach Bearley scored the Panthers' lone goal, while Sean McDonald stopped 33 of 39 shots in goal.

“They worked really hard,” Kurtz said. “The seniors obviously wanted this game, to go out with a win. The underclassmen really fought hard for them, trying to get them the win. We fell a little short, but the effort was definitely there and I commend them for that.”

A major preseason emphasis for Kurtz was competitiveness, as he hoped the team would find a way to stay in games. That didn't work out the way he hoped in the early portion of the season, as Franklin Regional was outscored, 113-7, in its first 13 games of 2013-14.

The Panthers snapped a 46-game losing streak dating back to December 2011 with a 3-3 tie against Moon on Jan. 24. While the team's winless streak ran to 55 games and counting by the end of the season, Kurtz said the team played more competitively down the stretch.

That included last week's finale, as Franklin Regional trailed 3-1 midway through the third period before Armstrong put the game away with three late goals.

“We talked about it tonight in terms of putting three periods together,” Kurtz said. “Unfortunately this year, we just didn't find a way to put three periods together. In some games, we had two really strong periods and then kind of faded away. Other times we started out slow and got stronger as the game went on. But most definitely, I've seen us be competitive.”

Kurtz said a number of underclassmen stepped into leadership roles this season. While Franklin Regional had five seniors, many of them were young in hockey experience, he said.

Bearley, the captain, finished his junior season second on the team with four goals. Sophomore Justin Gismondi anchored the team's defensive corps, Kurtz said.

“(Gismondi has) really taken a leadership position on the blue line, and I look forward to having him back next year,” Kurtz said. “(Bearley's) just really taken that (captain) role and welcomed it, and I think he's become a better player because of it.”

McDonald, another sophomore, came to the team late and played well, Kurtz said.

“He's been a rock back there and has kept us in some games that we probably shouldn't have been in,” Kurtz said. “We're looking forward to having him back.”

Kurtz said he made a point to use four call-ups in every game this season in order to get younger players experience at the varsity level.

He said the underclassmen would stick together to compete in a spring league, and he is developing off-ice training for the players to take part in before the team reconvenes in late July or early August.

“Really, there's not going to be any real downtime this year,” Kurtz said. “All the guys are committed and ready for it, so we're getting right back to work in a couple weeks here.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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