Deer Lakes looks to carry momentum into PIHL semifinal matchup with Ringgold

Wednesday, March 15, 2023 | 9:49 PM

Deer Lakes finished off the regular season strong, defeating Neshannock and Bishop Canevin in back-to-back games to end up with a 16-2 record, second-best in PIHL Varsity D2 hockey.

That momentum continued into the playoffs when the Lancers defeated Carrick, 6-0, to advance to a semifinal matchup with Ringgold at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the RMU Island Sports Center.

Coach Jonathan Merlo said the team has improved its second-period play and has been a phenomenal backchecking team. He said he sees a motivated team of hockey players.

“They’re excited,” Merlo said. “They have another opportunity to play. They also know that the job isn’t done, and Ringgold is going to be an extremely tough path. We talked about it, and they have some really good and talented players.”

One of those Ringgold players is Kenneth Cadwallader, who notched 58 points in 16 games in the regular season. Cadwallader is teammates with Deer Lakes captain AJ Schaaf in travel hockey with the SHAHA Panthers 16U AAA team.

Schaaf said that Cadwallader is a close friend and great teammate, but on Thursday night, he wants bragging rights.

“We all feel good,” Schaaf said. “I don’t think there’s too much nervousness going around the team, which I think is a good thing, and we should be ready to go when it comes game time on Thursday night.”

Ringgold is 13-4-1 on the season, good for first place in the D2 Blue Division. Merlo said preparing for Ringgold in a short period of time has been a challenge. Nonetheless, the team practiced Sunday and Tuesday and is set for the semifinal matchup.

“Between Sunday and Thursday, for them, it’s about school,” Merlo said. “It’s about resting in between school and when they go to bed and just getting their mindset right for Thursday.”

Schaaf elaborated on how the Lancers have been focusing on strengthening their weak points.

“We’ve watched some things that we did good and some things they’ve taken advantage of on us,” Schaaf said. “One of our big things is going to be matchups. We’ve got to make sure we match up with their lines.”

Schaaf said that the main way to combat Ringgold’s offense is to make quick line changes to keep their legs fresh.

Schaaf added that Deer Lakes has a lot of momentum going into the game and wants to use that to their advantage.

“We’re still carrying that momentum from those pretty big wins at the end of the season, and we’ve been carrying that in practice and in the locker room before the games,” Schaaf said. “We’re all ready to go and want to keep this winning streak up.”

Schaaf said the team’s victory over Bishop Canevin, in particular, helped the team’s momentum. The Lancers scored three straight goals in the third period and won, 4-3.

“We knew what we wanted to do in that game and being able to stick to our game and pull away with that win was crazy,” Schaaf said. “It gives us a lot of confidence going into the playoffs, and we know how we got to play to be successful.”

Merlo added that the team’s ability to close out games is a strong suit.

“The fact the boys can rebound in the third period, it’s just a testament to how hard they’ve worked all year,” Merlo said “They never get down on themselves. They work together as a team for a common goal, and that’s to win a hockey game. I’m very proud of the boys for maintaining their level of commitment, intensity level and high level of play throughout all three periods.”

Deer Lakes goaltender Ben Korol was a part of the team’s success against Bishop Canevin. Korol boasted a 1.93 goals-against average throughout the season and saved 37 shots against the Crusaders.

“He is an all-star for a reason,” Merlo said. “I know he made some massive saves. There are some days when I look back at the film, I just thought to myself, ‘How did he do it?’ Without him, I’m not so sure if it’s if the score is the score after the game we played. Thirty-seven saves, I think we had 27 shots, so we definitely got outshot.”

Schaaf, who has 54 points on the season, Shawn McIntyre, who tallied 37 points, and Ryan Grunden, who has scored 27 points, have been leading the charge going into the postseason.

Nonetheless, the team features elite depth as eight players have over 10 points, including RJ Noulet, Hank Syzenyeri, Zachary Nacey, Mark Rauenswinter and Giovanni Porco.

“I feel comfortable putting everyone out in different situations and scenarios,” Merlo said. “Don’t get me wrong. The first line goes out a lot more than the second and the third, but we have gotten that third line out there much more than we had at the beginning of the year. And one reason is because they’ve earned it.”

Ultimtely, the Lancers are looking to continue their momentum and close out the season with a PIHL championship.

“The goal is to win,” Merlo said. “Again, it’s going to be a tough path. As long as everybody gives their best effort, nobody can really complain, right? And I think if we give our best effort, we have a really good opportunity and a good shot to come on top.”


More High School Hockey

Franklin Regional junior varsity hockey goes on amazing underdog run
4 Quaker Valley girls hockey players compete in national championships
Franklin Regional hockey coach disappointed after being ousted
Pine-Richland hockey caps special season with 4th state championship
Penn-Trafford playoff run ends with loss in Penguins Cup finals