Baldwin hockey ends 1st half of season on high note

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Friday, December 21, 2018 | 9:48 PM


Baldwin wrapped up the first half of its PIHL season on a winning note.

The Highlanders skated past Shaler, 5-2, to snap a three-game losing streak and improve to 4-6-1 in the Southeast Varsity AA Conference.

“We’re not where we want to be, currently sitting outside of the playoff picture, but we’ve continued to improve as the year’s progressed,” coach Justin Glock said. “Our defense has especially played well in our last (five) games. It starts with one game at a time, but we need to string some wins together to get back in the playoff hunt.”

Baldwin was 1-4 before defeating Upper St. Clair, 5-4, and Franklin Regional, 4-0, in back-to-back contests. After three straight losses, the Highlanders ended the first half of their schedule with the much-needed win against Shaler.

“I expect our team to compete in every game, which we did not do at start the season,” Glock said. “Our improvement lately has proven to our players that we can compete with and beat any team in (Class) AA, but we need to find a way to overcome our biggest hurdle. That is scoring more goals.

“We need our forwards to step up and score more goals in conjunction with the quality defense we’ve played over the past four or five games. We lost three one-goal games in a row against the top three teams in the Northwest Division: Hampton, Mars and Pine-Richland.”

Baldwin has scored 31 goals this season, with defenseman Paul Zmuda, and forwards Keith Reed and James Kavulic, leading the way.

Zmuda has a team-high six goals and six assists, good for 12 points. He was lauded as the Class AA player of the month earlier in the year.

“We’ve really had scoring by committee at forward,” Glock said. “Jason Kavulic and Keith Reed are our top scoring forwards, and they center our top two lines. We need every forward to step up and provide more production on offense.

“Paul Zmuda is our top scorer as a defenseman. He and Ross Zofcin have anchored our defensive play. Ross was our top scoring forward from a year ago and was unselfish enough to move to defense to help us in an area where we were struggling early in the season. He’s been willing to forfeit points he’d typically get playing forward in order to help the team where we need him most.”

The Highlanders’ defensive corps is anchored by senior goaltender Cole Shannon, who has a 3.08 goals-against average and .892 save percentage with one shutout.

“Cole has come into his own over the past (five) games,” Glock said. “He’s realizing how good he can be and continues to give us a chance to win every game.”

Baldwin’s other goal-scorers consist of forwards Andrew Golvash, Justin Pollard, Cameron Greenway, Nathan Hobson, Vincent Episcopo, Dominic Trimbur and James Dulya and defensemen Zack Pender, Nelson Buys and Zofcin.

Reed, Pender, Pollard, Zmuda and Kavulic netted one goal apiece against Shaler.

Glock said Pender has developed into a top “defensive” forward for the Highlanders.

“We’ve really improved on our penalty killing this season,” Glock said. “Zack is our best penalty-killing forward and one of the best shot blockers I’ve ever seen. He’s fearless and will step in front of any shot.”

Baldwin is idle from PIHL action over the holiday break and will play in a holiday tournament in Harmarville.

The Highlanders’ next league game will take place Jan. 7 against Latrobe at Kirk Nevin Arena, followed by six consecutive home games at Ice Castle.

“We’ve asked a lot of players to change their role after the season started in order to find more success as a team,” Glock said. “As Ross Zofcin moved back to help out our defense, Nathan Hobson moved from defense to forward.

“Hobson has provided a much-needed physical presence and aggressive mentality in our team’s forecheck.”

The frontrunners in the Southeast AA Conference through Dec. 19 were Hempfield (8-2), Latrobe (8-2), Upper St. Clair (7-1) and Franklin Regional (7-3).

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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