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Early offseason unfamiliar territory for Mars hockey team

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Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Tribune Review
Mars captain Craig Mazzotta (right), chasing a loose puck during the PIHL Class A semifinals, is one of eight seniors the hockey program will have to replace next season.
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By Joe Sager
Saturday, March 29, 2014, 1:47 p.m.

The offseason started a little soon for the Mars hockey team.

After all, the Planets had competed for the previous six Penguins Cup Class A championships. They won three in a row (2009-11) and lost to Quaker Valley three other times (2008, 2012-13). For the first time in seven years, though, Mars did not make it to the title game.

Thomas Jefferson snapped the Planets' title-game appearance streak with a 4-2 win in the Penguins Cup semifinals. Meanwhile, Quaker Valley got back to Consol Energy Center and wrapped up its third consecutive championship with an 8-2 win.

“I thought it was a pretty good year for us. I would have liked us to finish farther. I think it was good for the league to have a team other than us and Quaker Valley to make it to the Penguins Cup championship game. I just wish it wasn't us that had to miss it,” Mars coach Steve Meyers said. “It was kind of a weird year for us. We should come back strong next year, though, I hope.”

The Jaguars jumped on Mars in the semifinal matchup. They scored the game's first four goals. Thomas Jefferson scored twice late in the first period and added a power-play tally 18 seconds into the second. The Jaguars held a 4-0 lead with 7:01 remaining in the second period.

After that, though, it was all Planets.

Beau Heakins scored a power-play goal with 6:37 left in the second. Craig Mazzotta added a goal 5:53 into the third, but the deficit was too big to overcome.

“I thought, for the most part, we outplayed them. Definitely in the second period and beyond, they were holding on by the skin of their teeth,” Meyers said. “Our guys played our system to perfection. We're just not going to win many games giving up four goals on eight shots in the first two periods.”

Mars finished the year at 18-6. The Planets were atop the Class A standings for much of the first half of the year. Their biggest win came just before Thanksgiving, when they posted a 4-3 victory over Quaker Valley on Nov. 26. It snapped the Quakers' 51-game unbeaten streak against PIHL competition. Quaker Valley's previous league loss came Nov. 3, 2011, against Mars, also a 4-3 decision.

“The second half of the year was tough for us. I think we peaked when we beat Quaker,” Meyers said. “We never got back to the way we were playing. We just lacked a dominant scorer we have had in the past. We had a lot of injuries in the second half of the year, too. We lost Trevor Tisdale for the year, and that caused us to shuffle some lines around. Trevor is a gritty player who could have been a big help against Thomas Jefferson.”

The Planets graduate eight seniors, including leading scorers Nick Makozy (24 goals, 41 points) and captain Mazzotta (24 assists, 39 points).

“Next year will be interesting. We will only have three seniors next year, assuming Ian Houk-Graves does not come back (because of a travel team commitment),” Meyers said. “We'll have a lot of young guys and a lot of young, important guys back. I heard some varsity-aged guys might be coming back to the program, too.”

Sophomores Beau Heakins, Jonathan Kowalkowski, Mike McCann, Owen Vasbinder and Ian Newman and freshmen Keaton Hanna, Paul Maust and Tyler Spreng are the returning youngsters. Slater Hanna, Kyle Thomas and Tisdale will be seniors.

“Our program really lacks depth. We're getting into a little dry spell,” Meyers said. “Our JV team looked really good when I saw them play in the playoffs, but they only have 10 guys and a goalie. Next year, Tyler Spreng will be the only goalie for JV and varsity. We have a bunch of eighth-graders coming up, but no goalies. We'll be in good shape, though. There are just a lot of unknowns.”

The Planets aren't sure if they'll be in Class A next season, either. The PIHL has discussed shuffling the classifications.

Meyers said he looks forward to seeing Heakins (15 goals, 31 points) and Maust (25 points in only 14 games) develop.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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