Penn-Trafford hockey eyes strong 2nd half

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Saturday, December 23, 2017 | 9:33 PM


Given that the Penn-Trafford hockey team lost 18 players from last year's squad (17 to graduation and one to junior hockey), it appeared the Warriors would be in a rebuilding season. With a record of 4-6-0-0, however, Penn-Trafford has been more competitive than many anticipated.

There is plenty of work to be done, but Rob Baker has seen promise that could translate into more success when PIHL action resumes in January.

“My hope is just to be competitive in the games, and hopefully the kids will have a good push going into the second half of the season,” the third-year coach explained.

Despite the massive turnover, the campaign began successfully for Penn-Trafford, which won a preseason tournament and then defeated Shaler, 6-3, in the regular-season opener. After that, however, the Warriors dropped three straight contests and four out of five.

“The schedule became a little bit more difficult after that. We lost a couple game to higher-level teams,” Baker said of losses to Franklin Regional, Hempfield Area, Baldwin and Latrobe.

Since that point, the Warriors have been more competitive, defeating Montour and Upper St. Clair and losing to Mars by a single goal Dec. 18.

While Penn-Trafford is at the bottom of the standings in the South/East Division, it is just five points out of third.

“The kids are picking up the systems and such, working hard, but unfortunately, where I believe we should be 6-4, we're 4-6,” Baker said.

With a two-week layoff from the PIHL schedule, the Warriors will aim to hone their skills in a tournament in Harmarville this week. Facing Baldwin, as well as two higher-classification teams, not only will challenge the Warriors but will also allow them to focus on areas of their game that need the most work.

“We're going to need to improve on our offense production,” Baker said. “We're kind of struggling a little bit getting out of our end. If we can get our breakouts going a little better, I believe our zone entry and our attack zone time needs to pick up.”

Thus far, Gavin Patrick and Benjamin Leslie have provided most of the scoring punch. Patrick, who played junior varsity last year, paces the team by a wide margin with nine goals. Leslie leads Penn-Trafford in assists (nine) and points (13).

Jack Hughes and Jack McKenzie, each of whom have five points, are the next leading scorers. Baker pointed to defenseman Seth Poziviak as another player who could be an offensive catalyst.

Goalie Reno Patrick has been tested, often facing a barrage of shots. Still, his save percentage of .895 is impressive, and Baker called him a high-level goaltender for high school. While Patrick has played the majority of minutes, Robert Petrilli has impressed in his opportunities. Petrilli has won two of the three games in which he's appeared, including a surprise start against Upper St. Clair when Patrick was scratched due to illness.

“I have two pretty good goaltenders, and they're holding us in the games,” Baker said.

Baker said he saw immediate benefits last year after he team competed in a holiday tournament, and he's hoping to see the same this season.

If that happens, the Warriors will have a realistic shot to achieve the objective they set before the season.

“With so many new faces and trying to move kids in and out of different lineups — if we can hover around .500, maybe sneak into the playoffs, that'd be a reasonable goal,” Baker said.

Penn-Trafford returns to PIHL action Jan. 2 for a road tilt against Shaler and hosts Pine-Richland two days later.

Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.

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