Paced by 6 all-stars, Franklin Regional hockey enters home stretch

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Monday, January 29, 2018 | 11:00 PM


The Franklin Regional ice hockey team is in the thick of a balanced playoff race in the PIHL Class AA South/East division.

The Panthers began this week 9-5-0-1, and their 19 points were only one point behind division leaders Latrobe and Hempfield.

They also were only four points ahead of last place Baldwin, their opponent Monday in a game that was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.

Of the seven teams in the division, five qualify for the 10-team Penguins Cup playoffs.

“Every game has been competitive, and that's something we were really looking forward to when we moved up to AA,” Franklin Regional coach Brian Kurtz said.

“We know it's going to be a battle all three periods. They have to compete night in and night out, and the practices have to be as competitive.”

The PIHL stepped away from regular-season play Sunday and celebrated the best in the league at its annual all-star event at Robert Morris' Island Sports Center.

The day of four games included a AA contest between Team Blue and Team White.

Team Blue, with FR senior defensemen Ethan Yohe and Thomas Rafferty, junior goaltender Daniel Soltesz and sophomore forward Mathieu Silva, battled throughout the game but came up short 7-4.

Junior Oldrich Virag and senior Nicholas Carretta were original selections to the all-star game, giving Franklin Regional a total of six, but both were unable to play in Sunday's game because of commitments with their travel team at a showcase tournament in Minnesota.

It was Soltesz's and Carretta's second consecutive all-star selection. The six Panthers selected marked the most from any AA team.

“It's great to see that all six guys got acknowledged and made at least the initial team,” Kurtz said. “We're pretty proud of the way these guys have developed through the system. It shows the hard work that everyone's been putting in the past few seasons to establish ourselves back as a competitive organization.”

Yohe finished the AA game with an assist, and Soltesz stopped 13 shots and allowed only one goal in his one period of work.

“For guys like Yohe and Rafferty, seniors who get to experience this in their final seasons, it's special for them and for everyone in the program,” Kurtz said. “Olda, I felt, kind of got snubbed last year, so even though he couldn't play this year, his selection was nice to see. Mathieu is only a sophomore, and I think he has a good chance to be in the all-star game two more years.”

Through 15 games, Virag led the team in goals (14) and points (27), while Carretta posted a team-best 15 assists.

Yohe recorded a team-high seven power play goals and has 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists).

Silva was second on the team with 14 assists, and Rafferty assisted on 11 goals, good for fourth.

Soltesz owned all nine Franklin Regional victories in net with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage.

“Right now, we're just trying to find the consistency in our game,” Kurtz said. “We're playing well and are a tough team to beat, but we've dropped a few that I feel we should've had because of one bad period or we didn't come out and compete to the level we needed. But we can't dwell on those losses. We have to look at what's in front of us and have that consistency at the right time.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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