Butler seniors restore pride to hockey program
Butler's hockey team wanted to win a PIHL Penguins Cup Class AAA championship.
When Pine-Richland dashed the Golden Tornado's hopes with a 4-2 quarterfinal victory, all of Butler's players were devastated.
Not just because Butler didn't reach Consol Energy Center for the title game. The loss also meant it was the team's last game together wearing the same jerseys.
“I have never seen a more heartbroken team in my life. There wasn't a single dry eye in the room,” Butler coach Mike Guentner said. “It just goes to show how tight the team was and the brotherhood they have. Losing wasn't the worst part; it was just the end of something special. These guys put in a lot of effort to make this thing work and they became best friends in the end.”
Two seasons removed from a one-win season, the Golden Tornado's 11-person senior class dedicated itself to the program and each other. It paid off in 2013 as the team got back to the postseason for the first time in more than a decade. This season, Butler (13-8) finished atop the Section 3 standings for its first Class AAA section title since 1993.
“We took a lot of pride, in terms of sort of building foundation for the future of program. That didn't mean Penguins Cup or bust. It was more of a culture thing. The responsibility was on us to dictate the direction of the program,” Guentner said. “When these seniors were freshmen or sophomores, there was talk about going down to the Open Class or dropping the program altogether. To go to the point where we are now among top teams in Class AAA is great. A lot of it has to do with the guys in that senior class.”
Butler's seniors include Jacob Campbell, Tanner Chuba, Joe DiMartino, Troy Double, Jordan Krajnikovich, Dylan Rice, Logan Rothbauer, Dalton Scott, Matt Tomasovic and Nick Whann. Guentner believes they all have a chance to continue playing hockey past high school.
“All along we've said player development is our No. 1 goal. That's still the case. We still have to give it a couple more years for guys to find a place to land,” Guentner said. “As coaches, we feel like we did our job. A lot of players are moving along, if they choose to pursue that goal, they can all be successful at that level. From that aspect, we do consider it a success.
“It's always fun to go deep in a playoff race, though. It just wasn't in the cards for us.”
Against Pine-Richland, the Golden Tornado did not have a lead. Pine-Richland held a 1-0 edge after the first. Campbell scored 7:21 into the second, but the Rams got a late goal to carry a 2-1 advantage into the intermission. They went up 3-1 with 8:55 to go. Sophomore Connor Scott's power-play goal trimmed Butler's deficit to 3-2 with 4:40 to play, but Pine-Richland got an empty-net goal to seal the win.
“I think the outcome might have been different if we got that first goal or if we got the lead,” Guentner said. “It was just a real good, competitive game and they got the win.”
Guentner won't hang up his whistle for the season just yet — he was named Team Pittsburgh's head coach for the upcoming America's Showcase tournament, which will take place April 10-14 at the RMU Island Sports Center.
Guentner, an assistant last year, will help pick the Team Pittsburgh roster, which is made up of PIHL players.
“It's a big honor. It's a mixture of excitement and a little pressure. Coming into Butler, the expectation was to do better than the season before. The first time, I only had to get more than one win,” he said. “Team Pittsburgh has gone to the finals the last two showcases in a row and has a showcase victory. It's a different kind of pressure, and I am excited for that challenge.
“Development was the most-important part of our approach at Butler. That's what I will stress to this team. When you focus on player development, you have success,” he continued. It should be a lot of fun. When you can put together some of the best players in the country under the same roof, it's exciting. Even if I wasn't coach, I'd still want to be there to watch.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.