Deer Lakes hockey team off to strong start in return to PIHL
Monday, November 7, 2022 | 12:35 PM
Varsity hockey has returned to Deer Lakes High School this season.
The Lancers won their first three games against the likes of Wilmington, 8-1, Central Valley, 8-1, and Carrick, 5-2.
“I am extremely proud of the boys thus far, especially since this is our first varsity team in years to take the ice,” coach Jonathan Merlo said. “They are a mature, talented and wise group of young men who have bought into one another for a common goal. What I love seeing is how much of a team game we are playing at the moment which has contributed to our defensive and offensive power.
“Starting 3-0 is not a surprise to us, but we do understand that the work ethic needs to continue in order to keep the success we have. The coaching staff is excited to see how this group evolves as the year continues.”
There are 24 players listed on the 2022-23 roster, including two seniors, 14 juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen. Deer Lakes is a co-op team with players from Ambridge, Apollo-Ridge, Aquinas Academy, Eden Christian and St. Joseph.
The Lancers are members of the PIHL Varsity D2 Gold Division and were tied for first place with Bishop Canevin with 3-0 records, followed by Neshannock (2-0) and Burrell (2-0). Wilmington (1-3) and Central Valley rounded out the standings.
“We are looking forward to striving for more success as the season goes on,” Merlo said, “and I believe teams should take note of the return of Deer Lakes this year as we plan on making some noise. Our goal is to make the playoffs and contend for a D2 championship.”
An early season highlight for Deer Lakes was its Oct. 24 win against Carrick at Alpha Ice Complex, the Lancers’ home ice.
Sophomore forward Ryan Grunden had a hat trick, and junior forward Shawn McIntyre added two goals to lead Deer Lakes and hand Carrick its first loss of the season.
A.J. Schaaf, a junior forward, contributed four assists.
“I’m extremely happy with our team’s performance and have high expectations that we will continue to grow and become an even stronger team then we are now,” Schaaf said. “Our strength would have to be the chemistry we built very quickly for us being a team combined of multiple schools. It has helped us succeed on the ice, and we’ve become a family off the ice.”
After three games, Schaaf led the Lancers in scoring with four goals and four assists. McIntyre and Grunden netted four goals apiece, and junior forward Gio Porco peppered in three goals.
“I feel as though my personal season has been pretty solid,” Schaaf said. “I always have room for improvement and have expectations that I hope to meet by the end of the season.”
Junior defenseman Hank Szenyeri shared the team lead with Schaaf with four assists to go along with his one goal.
Junior forward R.J. Noullet netted two goals and three assists, and three other Deer Lakes skaters knocked in one goal: junior forwards Mark Rauenswinter and Jack “JZ” Zawalnicki and freshman forward Nick Kozub.
Ben Korol, a senior goaltender, stood at 3-0 with a 1.44 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. Korol allowed four goals on 63 shots. Junior Aaron Haney is a reserve goaltender.
“I’m very happy with how our (varsity) team has performed so far this season,” Korol said. “We have had great coaching, and all the players have contributed to our success. Defensively, we have been very consistent, which has benefited me greatly.
“With my teams’ previous early exits from the playoffs. I’m expecting this team to make a deep run into the playoffs and compete for a championship.”
The Lancers’ defensive corps consists of juniors David McCombs, Jackson Vollmer, Owen Neidig and Szenyeri, along with sophomores Carter Catalano, Jake Bradley and Ryan Bogacz.
Bogacz, Bradley and Szenyeri are the team’s top defensive players.
Grunden, Schaaf and McIntyre skate together on Line 1 for the Lancers. Line 2 consists of Porco, Rauenswinter and Noullet.
“At the moment, we do have two sustained lineups that seem to have good chemistry,” Merlo said. “These lineups are interchangeable in terms of a top line for the club.
“I also want to note that (junior forward) Zach Nacey orchestrates our third line but has the ability to play on the top two lines. Zach also plays crucial minutes on the power play and penalty kill units.”
Merlo’s basic coaching philosophy involves players understanding their roles while on the ice.
“Play smart, simple and supportive hockey while limiting the number of penalties we take,” he said. “There is no need to overcomplicate the game as it can get complex while it occurs. If our players understand their roles, then our chances of success increase.”
Tags: Deer Lakes
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