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Sports

Kittanning powers up for Lions

| Thursday, Feb. 20, 2003

EAST FRANKLIN TWP. -- For two months Kittanning had the hottest team in the PIHL, with a 13-game winning streak and a spot atop the double-A Northeast Division.

The Wildcats still remain in the top spot and have guaranteed a postseason berth, but in their last three games they are 1-1-1 including a 2-2 tie against Indiana last week.

That tie brought out the one weakness Kittanning must correct before the playoffs open. The Wildcats must find a way to jump-start its struggling power play.

"I don't think we've been patient enough," Kittanning defenseman Justin Avi said. "I think we need to go down, set it up, and if we do set it up we'll get a good scoring opportunity off of it."

Kittanning (14-3-1) misfired on six power play chances against Indiana including a key second period two-man advantage for 1:17.

"We had to score on those power plays," Kittanning forward Zach Cain said after the tie with the Indians. "That's what cost us the game. We have to work on that this week."

So they did. For most of their hour-long practice Wednesday the Wildcats worked on their special teams with special emphasis on setting up their power play.

"It's the most fun to work on the power play, but aside from the fun it's the one thing we really need to work on right now," Kittanning forward Luke Heller said. "There's no good reason (for the 0-for-6 against Indiana), we just didn't capitalize. That's why we spent an entire practice working on it."

Part of the reason why Kittanning had problems against Indiana is the aggressive style it plays on the penalty-killing unit. The Indians didn't play in a normal box but were instead very aggressive and came out to challenge the Wildcats point men and forwards.

"They're about the only team like that," Kittanning defenseman Michael Mercurio said. "I think maybe we were trying to work too hard and move it too fast. we've just got to relax a little bit and try to control the puck."

Another concern for Kittanning's recent man-advantage struggles is personnel. The Wildcats have shuffled so many players in and out of the lineup over the last few weeks that they haven't been able to develop the kind of chemistry and continuity necessary to make a power play click at peak efficiency.

"That will come once we play together a little more," Heller said. "The power play I'm on just got put together, with Dustin Kellner and Zach Cain, but I think the more we play together the more we'll get used to each other."

What will help Kittanning get back on track is its final regular season home game Thursday against struggling Greensburg-Salem. The Golden Lions won their last game against hapless Carrick, but are only 4-13 overall and will miss the playoffs.

"It will give us a little bit of time to work on things before the playoffs," Mercurio said. "You can't take them lightly, but we can definitely work on some things there."

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