‘Building year’ for youthful Freeport hockey

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Sunday, December 22, 2019 | 5:27 PM


Jack Mason can still remember the nervousness he felt playing varsity hockey as a freshman.

“I was 14 years old playing against guys with beards, so it was a little intimidating at first,” he said.

It’s the same feeling many of Mason’s Freeport teammates are working through this season and, as a junior and team captain, he has done his best to be a guiding influence.

The Yellowjackets are an extremely young team with seven freshmen. The lone senior, Nathan Cristello, is playing varsity hockey for the first time.

Freeport (3-9) has had some ups and downs that come with being inexperienced and, when puck drops on the second half of the season in January, the hope is to find consistency to go along with continued improvement.

“I’m really excited about this group,” coach Kelly Mason said. “They’re young, they have a good hockey IQ and they’re very coachable. But they’re 14 (and under) kids getting used to playing 18 (and under) kids. There’s going to be an adjustment there. We knew going into it is going to be a building year, but we like our future with this team.”

Along with Jack Mason, juniors Addison Stewart, Nico DiSanti and Cole Mitchell bring the most experience. Stewart and DiSanti are alternate captains.

Mitchell leads the team with 16 points. DiSanti and Stewart have 15 points apiece.

All four juniors have provided a core of guidance for the freshmen: forwards Caleb Hoffman, Karsen Kronen and Ethan Rapp; defensemen Nick Dobransky and Jake Suwan and goaltender Nate Legin.

“We had to explain to these guys that it’s going to take some getting used to the speed and the hits,” Jack Mason said. “You have to look for the hits, because they are going to come. It’s not like playing for a club team. It’s going to get aggressive, chippy and its going to be fast. You have to keep your head up and keep pushing through it.”

Hoffman has gotten off to a strong start with six goals and four assists and is fourth on the team in points.

“Caleb Hoffman has been great,” coach Mason said. “Coming in as a freshman and already having 10 points is great. I love to see that. … Overall I love seeing the improvement from the younger guys.”

Another bright spot for the Yellowjackets has been the power play. Freeport has cashed in 16 times with the man advantage, including three times in a 7-3 win over Wheeling Catholic on Dec. 5.

“We have a lot of our upperclassmen on our power play, but some of our younger guys have been on it too, and we have a lot of chemistry together with that unit,” Stewart said. “Early in the season, especially, we were able to put a lot of goals on the board by moving the puck around.”

Freeport has scored 46 goals, which ranks second in the Northeast Division with Indiana, Kiski Area and Fox Chapel, and is right in the middle of the pack in Class A.

The major issue has been yielding goals. The Yellowjackets have allowed 70 goals (5.83 per game), third most in Class A.

A major goal going forward is being more responsible in their own zone and helping out Legin, the lone goaltender on the roster.

“I told the boys after the game (last Monday) against Chartiers Valley that we have to have total commitment from the first line through the third line to team defense,” coach Mason said. “We outshot Chartiers Valley, 36-23, but we gave up seven goals. We can’t live there.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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