Busy month ahead for undefeated Freeport hockey team

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Sunday, February 21, 2021 | 4:33 PM


In a normal high school hockey season in Western Pennsylvania, the regular season would be all but finished by now and teams would be looking to start a possible run in the playoffs.

But that is not the case in this season of covid uncertainty, when many teams have a ways to go before turning their attention to the postseason.

For Freeport, which is 8-0 in Class A, more than half of its 18-game regular season remains. And the Yellowjackets have a month to complete it, starting with Thursday’s rematch of a season-opening 7-4 victory over Kiski Area and concluding with a game March 25 against Chartiers Valley.

But captain Jack Mason, a senior defenseman, said Freeport is laser-focused on remaining on track as the coaches and players have invested so much time and energy into fulfilling expectations for a special season.

“This is the best team that I’ve been a part of playing high school hockey, and we’re one big family,” Mason said.

“Mentally, we are all pretty much intwined and ready to go. We’re all playing and practicing pretty well, and with knowing everyone’s skill level, we know what everyone is going to bring physically. We all have great attitudes that we are going to go out each time and take it to whoever we play.”

Last season, Freeport finished 5-15 and missed the Penguins Cup playoffs.

But with experience back, led by alternate captains in senior forwards Addison Stewart and Nico DiSanti, and emerging talent on offense and defense, Mason said the goals this year were to win the Northeast section, make the playoffs and give it a run to a the cup final.

The Penguins Cup finals for all four classifications tentatively are set for April 19 and 20 at Robert Morris University’s Island Sports Center.

Freeport is tied with Northeast Division rivals Kiski Area and North Catholic in points with 16, but the Yellowjackets have three games in hand on the Cavaliers (8-3), four on the Trojans (8-4).

That game difference could grow Monday evening as Kiski Area and North Catholic are scheduled to play at 8 p.m. at Center Ice Arena in Delmont.

“It’s been tough because of how the schedule has been with not knowing if a game will get called off at the last minute,” said DiSanti, who recalled how Freeport has played just two games this month, an 8-2 win over Sewickley Academy on Feb. 4 and a 4-3 triumph over North Catholic on Feb. 9.

The Yellowjackets opened their topsy-turvy season Nov. 3, played again two days later and then did not play again until Dec. 7. Next, the state-mandated stoppage of high school sports activities that started Dec. 12 kept Freeport from game action until Jan. 11.

“The guys were diligent about staying focused and engaged through all of the breaks,” Freeport coach Kelly Mason said. “Each time they came back, you could see maybe a little rust just because they hadn’t played together for a while. But they always had their legs. I have to give them a lot of credit for buying in like that. The guys are so supportive of each other and are very serious about going after a championship.”

The Yellowjackets have outscored their opponents 48-16.

“We have had the mindset to work one practice at a time and one game at a time,” said DiSanti, who has nine goals and five assists this season.

“We just want to work hard every time we get on the ice. We know these opportunities can be taken away so quickly.”

Eleven Freeport skaters have at least one goal this season.

Senior forward Keith Smilowitz leads the way with 10 goals. Seven of the ten have come in the last three games he’s played, including a hat trick Jan. 28 in the team’s 6-2 win over Westmont.

Smilowitz, as well as senior defenseman Cole Mitchell were unable to play against North Catholic. Down two key players, the Yellowjackets still were able to answer the bell and turn away the Trojans.

Sophomore forward Caleb Hoffman scored his team’s first goal and then tallied the game winner with just 2 minutes, 25 seconds left in the third period. He has a total of eight goals in the eight team games, good for third on the team behind Smilowitz and DiSanti.

“As we have gone on, the target on our back has gotten bigger,” coach Mason said. “Teams get in line to be the one to finally beat us. We know we have to put our best effort out each game.”

Joe Liput, a sophomore forward, also scored against North Catholic, and Stewart tallied his fifth of the season in the game. Freshman goaltender Tyler Lang stopped 32 shots.

Lang owns a .917 save percentage (198 of 216) in the first eight games of his varsity career. He stopped a season-best 38 of 42 shots in the opener against Kiski Area.

“I expected him to do well,” coach Mason said. “He’s a tough nut to crack, not only in net but mentally. If he gives up a goal, he doesn’t go into a shell. He’s always ready to stop that next shot. The guys have a ton of confidence in him.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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