Junior Penguins add 9-year-old squad
For The Valley News Dispatch
For 9-year-old hockey players, a Tier 1-AAA amateur hockey team is as good as it gets. That's why coaches John McCarthy and John Fedorek are determined to field a team that can withstand the competition.
McCarthy and Fedorek are organizing a team that is attracting players from Kittanning, Sarver, Butler and Bethel Park and has been practicing at the Harmarville BladeRunners facility. The plan is to build a 22-player roster to compete in the Junior Penguins organization as a Tier 1-AAA squirt minor team. The squad will play teams from the Pittsburgh area and travel to Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y.
"We're guaranteed somewhere between 38 and 45 games," McCarthy said. "The season will start around the beginning of October and end at the end of February. The month of March is the playoffs."
The classification squirt minor is used to designate hockey players who are 9 years old. This is the first season that the classification has had a Tier 1-AAA team. The team will play two different schedules over the course of the season. The first schedule is with other teams from Pittsburgh in the Junior Penguins organization, and the other schedule includes teams from the Empire West League (New York and Canada).
McCarthy is excited due to a spike in interest in youth hockey that has corresponded with the success of the NHL Penguins. The Junior Penguins organization is associated with the Penguins.
"I've seen easily 20 new kids come into the game in the past year and a half," McCarthy said.
This affords the organization many opportunities. Former Penguins players Phil Bourque and Ken Wregget are involved with the team as NHL pro advisers, and the president of the organization is NHL off-ice official Eugene Susi.
"The teams get to experience a higher level of hockey," Fedorek said. "This is a great opportunity for them."
Both coaches have made it a priority to stress family and academics before playing hockey. McCarthy has adjusted the schedule to make sure teams will not be traveling during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The league also encourages education by giving players who make the honor roll in school an academic all-star patch to wear on their uniforms.
"There's an old saying we have in hockey," Fedorek said. "Kids on ice never get in hot water."
Roster spots are still open on the team for any hockey players born in 1998. Parents are invited to call McCarthy at 724-444-5497.