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Gateway gunning for repeat performance and more in PIHL Class AA

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

For the first time in several years, a Gateway varsity ice hockey team enters a season as a defending section champion.

The Gators captured the PIHL's Section 3-AA championship in February, and while head coach Gene Perhac said his team will be fairly young overall this year, the leadership is in place to help Gateway make some noise.

“We have some young players who will be stepping up into key roles,” Perhac said. “We're looking forward to developing them and hope they can adjust quickly to fill the spots of kids who have moved on.”

Gateway again will play Kiski Area and Franklin Regional in section, and Latrobe, last year's Section 4 champion, will be a section foe of the Gators for the 2012-13 season.

Latrobe made the move when Hampton, which competed in the Class A Penguins Cup finals the past two seasons, moved up to AA.

Gateway split with Latrobe last year, and a 6-4 win over the Wildcats late in the season avenged a 6-0 setback 17 days earlier.

“That makes things a little bit tougher, but we're looking forward to the challenge,” Perhac said.

Gateway returns its top three point scorers from last year in seniors Jake DeHass, John Kasper and Camden Cacolice.

Kasper led the team in goals scored (16), while DeHass led in points (27) and assists (19). Cacolice was second in goals (11) and sixth in assists (11).

Senior defender Dathan Johnson was tied for second in assists with 12.

Taylor Siwik returns to the team after not playing high school hockey last year as a junior. Siwik scored 20 goals and added 22 assists for the Gators as a sophomore in the 2010-11 season.

“We're looking for big things from Taylor this season,” Perhac said.

Siwik and DeHass, Perhac said, have led the team in scoring in preseason games.

“The kids are optimistic they can have a strong season,” Perhac said.

“Our goals stayed the same as they were last year — win the section and make the playoffs. It's that old adage of one game at a time. I think we can make some noise.”

Gateway finished 9-11-1 last year, and the Gators battled through injuries to key players at different points in the campaign.

“It is very important to stay healthy, especially with our returning upperclassmen,” Perhac said.

“Hopefully, we don't go through what we did last year.”

Perhac said he's expecting Zach Dusch, a returning junior who got a lot of varsity minutes last year, to help anchor the defense.

He also expects junior forwards Jake Brennan and Brenden Hamilton to have increased roles in the offense.

Junior goaltender Tyler Perhac was 8-10-1 in net last year, while senior Matt Whelan figured into the result of two games and had a 1-1 record.

“Tyler and Matt are solid in net,” Perhac said.

Perhac said the younger players still are a work in progress and are getting used to the speed of varsity games.

“We learned a lot last year about finishing off games,” Perhac said. “We had a bunch of tough losses, but we had some nice wins. Penguins Cup champion West Allegheny only had three losses last year, and one of the losses was to us. Those type of things can help the team. It gave them a lot of confidence. The upperclassmen know they can get the job done.”

Gateway opens its season against Hampton on Monday at 7:10 p.m. at Ice Connection in Valencia.

The Gators also play Chartiers Valley on Nov. 5 at 9:10 p.m. at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center.

Gateway opens the home portion of its schedule against rival Plum at Center Ice Arena in Delmont on Nov. 8 at 7:45 p.m.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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