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Mars hockey team keeps focus with summer skating sessions

| Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, 5:49 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Mars forward Paul Maust breaks away up-ice with Kyle Thomas during the third period against Quaker Valley on Nov. 26, 2013 at Bladerunners in Warrendale. Maust is expected to play for Mars again this season.

The Mars hockey team will have a different look this season. And the Planets are not sure whom they'll see on the other side of the ice, either.

Eight seniors graduated, including leading scorers Nick Makozy (24 goals, 41 points) and captain Craig Mazzotta (24 assists, 39 points). That left Mars looking to fill some key holes in its lineup.

“We took a more serious approach to this offseason,” Mars coach Steve Meyers said. “When you lose all three of your captains and a large part of your core, you have to get the younger guys more adapted and prepared to play against older kids. We really ramped up our strength training.”

Last season, the Planets had their streak of Penguins Cup Class A championship game appearances stopped at six years with a 4-2 semifinal loss to Thomas Jefferson.

Mars won three Penguins Cups in a row (2009-11) and lost to Quaker Valley three other times (2008, 2012-13) during that run.

“We did a lot of conditioning this summer,” Meyers said. “Maybe with some of the more skilled teams in the past we were kind of used to having fun. This is a program that hasn't really won anything in a couple years. We really wanted to ramp up the offseason program because we lost a lot of important people.”

After a break in the spring, the Planets got to work on preparation for the fall season.

“We gave the guys about a month off. We try to keep it light. We did a little plyometric training at the beginning of the summer. We did some dry land training, Meyers said.

“Usually, we played a game like Ultimate Frisbee.We didn't play in any organized leagues this year. We skated twice a week pretty much the whole summer.

“Usually, we got a pretty good turnout, but you have some guys missing for baseball or for vacation.”

Meyers was happy with the team's commitment.

“The guys bought into hard skating and running,” Meyers said. “Everyone dreads the bag skate, but we tried to reinforce it's all about your state of mind. If you look at it as helping you in the long run and it'll make you a better player, it makes it fun. I think it really paid off and the guys really bought into it.”

With some uncertainty on PIHL rule changes for rosters, the Planets had as many of their people train with the varsity team as possible.

“The rumor is there might be an unlimited number of call-ups, so we changed the way we did things,” Meyers said. “This summer, we had pretty much the whole JV team with the varsity. It was a good idea. It kept our numbers up and helps grow the JV team playing with the varsity guys.”

Potentially, the season could begin a month earlier, too.

“We have to start preparing for the season. There's a rumor that the season will start in the first week of October instead of November,” Meyers said. “That doesn't give us much time to prepare.”

Mars hopes to ramp up its on-ice activity and get to the point where it is ready to scrimmage other squads.

“We typically try to scrimmage teams we don't normally play. I anticipate we'll get some games like that. There is going to be a St. Margaret's tournament this year, so, hopefully we can get into that,” Meyers said. “This is the first offseason where I have seen a lot of uncertainty. It's really hard to prepare for a season when you don't know what's coming.”

That includes the potential shuffling of the PIHL's classification system, which would alter the Planets' schedule.

Mars has some certainty on its roster, though.

“We're going to have everyone we thought we would,” Meyers said. “I wasn't anticipating having Paul Maust, but he is going to play for us. I was surprised about that. We're still trying to get Ian Houk-Graves to come back. He is playing for the Penguins Elite team and there's a chance he could play for us, too. We'll see.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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