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Mars hockey reloads after losing 8 seniors, last year's top scorer

| Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, 11:56 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Mars goalie Alex Stepke makes a save against Quaker Valley at Airport Ice Arena. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Mars goalie Alex Stepke makes a save against Quaker Valley at Airport Ice Arena. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Mars forward Nick Makozy carries the puck against Quaker Valley at Airport Ice Arena. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

As it has done regularly over the past half-decade, the Mars hockey team has reloaded heading into a new season.

It's just that, this season, there seemed to be much more to do.

The Planets have played in the past five PIHL Class A Penguins Cup championship games, winning three and taking two state titles. They're coming off a 19-3 season in which they were Penguins Cup runner-up to Quaker Valley.

But that team had eight seniors, all of whom have graduated. It also lost leading scorer Austin Heakins, who is prevented from playing for his high school team because of his commitment to the Penguins Elite junior program.

“It was tough because there are a bunch of seniors and a lot of friends who knew what was going on who aren't here anymore,” Planets alternate captain Ian Houk-Graves said. “We've obviously had to get the hang of a bunch of newer guys this year, but, all in all, to be 4-2 with the tough schedule we've had I think is a great record so far.”

In recent years, the Planets twice have gone an entire season without losing more than two times. But this 4-2 start is encouraging because Mars is adjusting to life without its top four scorers and several other key contributors from a year ago.

The Planets also have had a spate of injuries (their top two goalies, Alex Stepke and Christian Knapp, are sidelined with concussions). Coach Steve Myers said Mars has had its entire team available for only one game.

Most importantly, though, Mars has weathered the toughest part of its schedule.

The Planets have played Quaker Valley, Kittanning, Serra Catholic (twice) and Thomas Jefferson. All are expected to be among Class A's top teams.

“Being a young team and having the challenges we've had at the beginning of the year with a brutal schedule — I never even heard of back-to-back games in the PIHL, and to have it be Kittanning and Serra is pretty scary — so far we've come out of it looking like a contender,” Myers said.

Mars' top scorers are junior Craig Mazzotta and senior Ed Schwadron, who each have five goals and four assists.

Mazzotta typically skates on the Planets' top line with senior center Max Master and sophomore winger Trevor Tisdale. Master has five goals in five games.

Schwadron and juniors Nick Makozy and Noah Master, when healthy, form another potent line. Junior Kyle Thomas often joins two freshmen — Beau Heakins and Jon Kowalkowski — on the third line.

“We still have talent, but it's young talent,” Myers said. “Guys are still learning the system. In terms of skill, it's definitely the most turnover we've had.”

Senior winger Nick Berteotti shares the alternate captaincy with Houk-Graves. Senior Reed Salada is Mars' captain and the anchor of its otherwise-young defensemen corps that includes freshmen Ian Newman, Ryan Wasylson and Mike McCann and junior JV call-up Jason Schwartz.

“We have a lot of talent,” Houk-Graves said. “We've always had a great school and program and great kids coming up to play with us, and they kind of know what we have to do and that we expect to win.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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