All-stars have Shaler hockey in thick of PIHL playoff race

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Sunday, January 22, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Being able to see the rewards of gradual progress has Shane Ciganik relishing his opportunity to represent the PIHL Class A Blue Division in the PIHL All-Star game.

Ciganik made his first start as a freshman goalie too nervous to think about the challenge ahead.

Now, Ciganik has a different feeling when he skates on the ice.

“When I started my first varsity game, I was super nervous,” Ciganik said. “That’s all I could think about. I didn’t have much of an appetite. Now, that’s all gone. When I hit the ice, my nerves are gone.”

Ciganik, who is 7-5 this season with a .874 save percentage and 3.31 goals-against average, is on pace to set a new career-high for wins. He is part of group of four Titans players — along with senior forward Joey Laquatra, junior forward Luca Wallander and junior defenseman Tyler Garasich — who will play in the event at 3:20 p.m. Jan. 29 at RMU Island Sports Center.

First-year Shaler coach Nate Connolly was pleased with the progress all four players have made.

“They’ve all taken on a leadership role,” Connolly said. “That’s been important as a young team. We have 10 freshmen and only five seniors. They’ve all stepped up, bought in and have worked well as a unit.”

Ciganik finished 7-5 last season with a .892 save percentage and 3.31 GAA. Connolly, who came to Shaler after serving as an assistant for Trinity, has noticed improvements in Ciganik’s game.

“You could tell he was a raw and athletic goalie,” Connolly said. “He was relying on athleticism and instincts a lot. He’s become a good-form goalie. He’s relying on positioning and smarts. His movement is a lot better.”

Laquatra has had an excellent offensive season. He has 24 points, including a team-high 10 goals and 14 assists. Luca Wallander has also provided a scoring punch, contributing 19 points with nine goals and 10 assists.

Ciganik is proud of the progress Shaler has made since the beginning of the season. He’s hoping the Titans can close the season with a strong run.

“It was a slow start at the beginning of the year. One of the main goals was to make the playoffs,” Ciganik said. “We rallied behind each other and are working hard.”

The Titans are currently in sixth place in the Class A Blue Division, leading Freeport by two points for the final playoff spot. Shaler, which is 7-7 overall, hasn’t made the PIHL playoffs since 2018.

“That’s been our goal all along,” Connolly said. “Once you get in, you never know what can happen. We are looking forward to taking care of business. We have five games left and they are all must-wins.”

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