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Freeport hockey team places high priority on puck possession

| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 12:36 a.m.
Freeport's Justin Drzemiecki moves the puck into the offensive end during a game against Kittanning last season.
Freeport's Cole Hepler skates the puck up ice against Kittanning during a game last season.

With an abundance of offensive firepower, the Freeport hockey team might encourage a fancier playing style this winter.

The Yellowjackets' top 12 point producers returned after a season in which Freeport went 11-8-2 and made the PIHL Class A quarterfinals. Neither players nor coaches expect Freeport to completely abandon its defense-first attitude, which contributed to the team's 83 goals scored and 55 allowed in 2011-12. But a fluid approach likely will replace a dump-and-chase strategy.

“I'm looking for more puck control,” coach Dave Hepler said. “I'm not going to be happy with just keeping the puck out of our own end. We're looking to get the puck to someone and getting it down the ice with a three-on-two, two-on-one. … Make something happen and get some shots. We're not happy to just ice it and live another day.”

The change should help junior Cole Hepler and senior Greg Newman improve their offensive production. Hepler led the team last season with 18 goals and 18 assists. Newman followed with 12 goals and 14 assists.

After that duo came a series of modest contributors. Nicholas Zidek, now a junior, ranked third on the team with 17 points (9 goals, 8 assists). Justin Drzemiecki (9, 7), Hunter Kepple (6, 9), John Bird (2, 10), Tyler Bonitsky (4, 7) and Brendon Zack (2, 8) also reached the double-digit mark.

“We'll being playing the same role as last year as far as putting the puck in the net,” Cole Hepler said. “But this year, we'll have a couple of lines that'll be able to do the same thing.

“A couple of the younger guys will be able to help us out. It's not going to be just dumping it in and trying to grind it out. We'll be able to make a move and possess the puck.”

Several underclassmen wasted no time in proving their worth.

Freshmen Stone Haberstroh and Michael Frazetta each had a goal in Freeport's only game this season, a 5-2 win over Serra Catholic. And sophomore Ethan Waddell earned two assists in his debut as a full-time contributor.

The depth and experience at the other five positions might benefit Freeport's young goaltenders, who are responsible for replacing four-year starter Cody Lee.

As a senior, Lee faced the fourth-most shots (463) in Class A during the regular season. He excelled, denying 90.3 percent. The Yellowjackets, however, know they can't ask the same of sophomore Dom Digiacobbe and freshmen Matt Huston and Katelyn Hill.

Digiacobbe started in the season opener and finished with 21 saves. While he's Freeport's logical candidate for go-to netminder, Digiacobbe is not expected to stand in goal for every start, as his predecessor did. Dave Hepler said Huston and Hill also will see time in the crease.

As long as Freeport sticks to its puck possession plan, the Yellowjackets shouldn't force any of their goaltenders to shut down opponents.

“I think more goals may come sooner or later,” Drzemiecki said. “If we get our chances, we'll go on offense. But we're definitely more defensive.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303.

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