Large group set to return for Plum hockey

| Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Only two seniors were on Plum's varsity roster when the high school hockey season began in late October.

That meant the Mustangs needed their underclassmen to come through in a big way.

Plum's young core of players was up to the task. Following the leadership of senior standouts Joe Randazzo on offense and Zach Kuhn on defense, the Mustangs came of age in a season that saw them win the PIHL's Section 4-AA title while going 12-8-3 and qualifying for the playoffs.

“I like the fact that we were not afraid to play any team,” Plum coach Dave Stonebraker said. “We were not in awe of any team, and as a young team you want to be able to go into a game and feel comfortable and be able to play your game.

“We played a very solid brand of hockey. I like our physical, yet disciplined presence that we had. Going into next year, we want to continue that.”

The future looks bright for Plum hockey.

“It's a tough situation because I don't want to put undue pressure on the players,” coach Stonebraker said. “But they realize that we set the bar high this year.”

It won't be easy to replace Randazzo and Kuhn, both PIHL all-stars during their Plum careers.

Randazzo led the Mustangs in scoring this season with 36 goals and 26 assists for 62 points. Kuhn anchored a young defensive unit while contributing offensively with four goals and 12 assists.

“(Randazzo) is a talented player. You're not going to replace that scoring easily,” coach Stonebraker said. “Zach is a very strong, capable leader and presence, and he was our captain. So those are two players we're going to miss.”

Plum also loses senior forwards Justin Predmore and Matt Rihn. Both were called up to the varsity club during the season.

The Mustangs return the team's second-leading scorer, their all-star goaltender and a promising group of forwards and defensemen.

“We have a very strong and talented goaltender in James Borriello back for his senior year next year,” coach Stonebraker said. “We've got scoring and defense, and we should be a team that's able to compete.”

Junior forward David Stonebraker, the coach's son, capped off a 50-point season when he scored both of Plum's goals in the Mustangs' season-ending 3-2 overtime loss to Hampton in the first round of the PIHL playoffs March 3.

Stonebraker finished with 29 goals and 21 assists in 22 games. He had 12 goals and 13 assists as a sophomore.

“David's got a gift that he's able to put the puck in the net,” coach Stonebraker said. “He's a strong player, and we look for that, but we're also going to need additional scoring from our other forwards.

“A lot of these guys who have been in the shadows, they need to come out and start putting some pucks in the net over the next year and playing to their capabilities.”

Coach Stonebraker mentioned freshmen Dillon Joyce (nine goals, 15 assists) and Anthony Borriello (three goals, 10 assists) and junior Thomas Kelesky (four goals, three assists) as players capable of adding scoring punch. On defense, he sees sophomore Zach Nolan (six goals, 14 assists) and freshman Ryan Loebig as key players on the blue line.

“We're looking for all of them to be impact players,” he said. “And there are a number of others as well.”

After seeing action in four games as a backup his sophomore season, James Borriello moved to the top of the depth chart in goal and flourished. He gave Plum a steady presence in the net, posting an 11-6-1 record with two shutouts and a goals against average of 2.94.

Plum had a senior-heavy club the previous season, graduating 10 players. The Mustangs' younger players had an opportunity to play right away, and they were able to experience success while gaining valuable experience.

“We've got a young core of talent, and we're going to expect a lot more out of them for next year,” coach Stonebraker said. “We've been in the playoffs each year over the past several years, and that's valuable experience.

“These young players have gotten a lot of time at the varsity level. They've gotten a lot of time to be able to acclimate themselves to the level of play that you face game-in and game-out at this level of hockey.”

Dave Schrecengost is a freelance writer.

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