Burrell hockey team features deeper roster for 1st-year head coach

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Wednesday, October 13, 2021 | 10:08 AM


When Burrell hockey president Dave Burkett approached Luke Kopchak this summer about becoming the next coach of the Bucs, it didn’t take long for him to decide to jump on the opportunity.

Kopchak had coached many of the players on the roster in amateur hockey and was an assistant for the Bucs three years ago, so there was familiarity in all aspects of the program.

Now that he’s behind the bench, his goal is to try to get Burrell back among the top programs in PIHL Division II after missing the playoffs a season ago.

“I’ve been coaching at Burrell’s home rink, Pittsburgh Ice Arena, for seven years, so I’ve known a lot of these Burrell hockey players for a long time,” Kopchak said. “A lot of these players were on amateur teams that I coached. I wanted to coach the seniors for their final high school hockey season and give them an opportunity to succeed. We have a really good team, and I’m glad that it worked out this year.”

Burrell split its first two games, falling in the opener to Bishop Canevin, 4-2, but rebounded to win at Morgantown, 3-1.

Kopchak played at Kiski Area from 2006-09 and currently coaches the Esmark Stars 12U team and is the player development coordinator for the North Hills Amateur Hockey Association.

The Bucs have a full roster of skaters and a pair of goalies. They will be much deeper than they have been the last couple of years after the graduation of standouts such as Tyler Stewart and Dylan Zelonka, who helped Burrell reach the PIHL Division II championship in 2018 and ’19.

Kopchak said many of the players already had signed up prior to him being named coach, but they also added a few more players afterward. They will have the ability to have four lines and three defense pairs most nights, making them much deeper than they were the past few seasons.

The team is a co-op, with players from Highlands and Penn Hills also represented.

Carter Coffman is the team captain. He’s in his third year with the organization. The goalie tandem of Austin Schueler and Zach Stewart returns as well.

Kopchak said the best trait the team has is its speed, so they want to take advantage of it by imposing their will in the neutral zone. He also stressed that they need to be willing to crash the net looking for rebounds to score goals.

“Our transition game is very important,” Kopchak said. “That’s where we can catch other teams off guard. They have the puck, and then we get a turnover and get up ice fast. We spend a lot of time in practice with our transition game, getting odd man breaks, what we do when we cross the blue line and identifying offensive zone options.”

Kopchak said it will take a few games together to mesh as a team, but once they do, he expects them to be a difficult opponent to play against.

“The players are excited,” Kopchak said. “We want to have a really good year. It starts with winning our division and then, hopefully, the whole thing. The team really wants to go to nationals, too, so that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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