Deep lineup returns for Gateway JV hockey team

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Sunday, October 2, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Gateway junior varsity ice hockey coach Shawn Jesih sounded the bell of optimism when talking about a team filled with experience and hungry to make its mark in the PIHL’s JV Tier 3 this season.

Fourteen players return from last year’s squad which went 1-1 in the year-end playoff tournament and, Jesih said, were playing strong hockey as the season came to a close.

“If we can keep these kids pointed in the right direction and working together, the sky’s the limit for what they can do,” said Jesih, who guided his players through a series of what he said were energy-filled offseason workouts, as well as a preseason scrimmage against Norwin, as the team took shape.

“We saw a lot of good things, from puck possession to scoring chances, against Norwin, which is one of the better teams in our division.”

Gateway is fronted by a trio of junior captains: forwards Hayden Hines and Blake Marsh, as well as defenseman Noah Evans.

Also back from last year’s team are senior forward Brandon Cirucci, sophomore forward CJ Evans, senior goaltender Jimmy Capell, senior defenseman Nicholas Venditti, junior goaltender Seth Hunkele, sophomore forward Connor Olson, junior forward Gavin Green, junior forward Hayden Nadeau, sophomore defenseman Brendan Luptak, sophomore forward Thomas Tuskan and senior forward Jovani Colarusso.

“The returning guys have that experience, and a lot of them have been through the struggles,” Jesih said. “They have been great working with the new and younger guys to show where we were at, where we are now, and where we want to go this season. We have some really nice freshmen, some sophomores who played on the middle school team, and a couple guys new to the team.

Jesih said he welcomes the opportunity and the challenges of working with a deep roster of 21 players.

“With rolling four (offensive) lines and three (defensive) lines, we’re always trying to find the right combinations and making sure we’re getting each guy the most amount of ice time as possible,” Jesih said.

“With having so much talent on the ice and guys who can play the game and understand the game, it’s important to make sure they go into each shift playing as a single unit and are communicating well together.”

Seven players new to the JV team are freshmen Gavin Grant and Reed Davis; sophomores Ian Steiner, Jakob Williams and Parker Williams; junior Austin Mancini; and senior Jacob Cochran.

Gateway again is the host of a five-team co-op which includes Jeannette, Derry, East Allegheny and Woodland Hills.

The Gators went 3-10-2 in the regular season last year and topped Connellsville, 2-1, in a first-round playoff game which went to a 12-round shootout to decide the result.

CJ Evans scored in regulation, and Luptak tallied the game-winner in the shootout.

“That was a great feeling for the entire coaching staff and all the players involved,” Jesih said.

“They battled that entire game. For it to come down to how it did and for them to show a lot of poise and determination, that win was priceless.

“It was an opportunity for the guys to play confident hockey no matter what situation they found themselves in. You could see the talent on the ice, and things were really starting to click. It was important for not only that moment and that playoff game but also for what kind of team the guys wanted to be moving forward from that. Now, we see that confidence growing even more.”

Gateway opened its season Sept. 20 with a 5-5 tie against Mt. Lebanon.

The Gators jumped out to a 4-1 lead before the Blue Devils rallied over the final two periods.

Grant led the way for Gateway with two goals, and Davis and Olson both added a goal and an assist.

Lupak also scored a goal, and Green and Noah Evans provided assists.

Capell started between the pipes and made 21 saves.

“We got up on them quickly, and to be honest, it was a little shocking to the group,” Jesih said.

“It’s been a long time since we had a lead like that. It seemed like the guys started to get away from their game and were taking some ill-advised penalties. Mt. Lebanon was able to come back, but we were at least able to come away from the game with a point. That game was a part of the growing process with this group, learning how to close out a game like that when getting a lead.”

Gateway was to face off against Deer Lakes on Sept. 29 in a Division 3 matchup at Alpha Ice Complex in Harmarville.

The Gators also were to skate against Montour on Oct. 3 at Robert Morris’ Island Sports Center.

Gateway is slated to host Moon at Palmer Imaging Arena in Delmont on Oct. 14 at 8:55 p.m.

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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