Defensively sound Latrobe battling for postseason berth

Monday, February 28, 2022 | 9:01 AM

Consider Josh Werner’s plight. Latrobe’s hockey coach drives 40-plus miles each way to pilot the Wildcats’ home games at Greensburg’s Nevin Arena.

For seven seasons, Werner has endured long nights, but he’s not complaining.

“I love coaching this team. That makes things easier,” said Werner, a former club team hockey player at Cal (Pa.). “I don’t mind the drive. The people at Latrobe have been great. I couldn’t be happier with the relationship I’ve developed with them.”

But, really, for Latrobe and Werner, a resident of Finleyville in Washington County, whose daytime job is director of Allegheny County-based Collier Township Parks and Recreation, anything less than a spot in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League playoffs is out of the question.

The Wildcats, who are locked in a three-way battle with Shaler and Hempfield for the final berth in the Class 2A East Division, were trying to rebound from Thursday’s 5-3 loss to Penn-Trafford with the first of two remaining regular-season games scheduled Monday night at division-leading Franklin Regional.

The Panthers defeated the Wildcats, 6-1, in October.

“We have to find an extra gear in these last few games,” Werner said.

Latrobe, which closes the regular season Feb. 28 by hosting winless West Allegheny, has been competitive throughout, scoring nearly the same number of goals (47) it’s given up (51).

“We graduated Alex Shaw last season, a 20-goal scorer for us,” Werner said. “Losing him put an emphasis on playing defense and making it hard to score. We’ve been in a lot of close games. Honestly, some people may be upset, but that’s exactly where we want to be.”

At the center of that defensive push are the Wildcats’ senior goaltending tandem of Vinny Amatucci and Evan Jarvis.

Amatucci has played the majority of minutes and sports a save percentage of 87.7. Both have appeared in nearly every game — Amatucci in all 17 and Jarvis missing just one appearance. In limited time, he’s built a 90.9 save percentage.

“Jarvis has played in some big games for us,” Werner said. “Both goalies have played great this year. No matter who’s in net, we would trust either one.”

Latrobe split a pair of games with the other two teams contending for the final playoff spot in the division.

The Wildcats lost to Hempfield, 5-4, on Feb. 7, then beat Shaler, 4-2, on Feb. 10 in a game that featured the infamous altercation in the stands that led to the suspension of a Shaler player.

“We got back to playing our game the way we wanted to play it. We held Shaler to 13 shots all game and killed off at least five penalties,” Werner said.

“We wanted to build off that.”

But Penn-Trafford, which trailed division-leading Franklin Regional by a point, held off Latrobe with an empty-net goal late in the third period to seal that 5-3 victory Thursday.

Latrobe’s defense is led by Jason Markowsky, who leads the Wildcats in blocked shots.

“That makes him special,” Werner said. “He’s got a knack for stopping the puck because he’s not afraid to sacrifice his body. We’ve got other guys with that mentality, too.”

Amatucci’s brother, Louie, along with Jack Beddick, Bryant Dumnich, Ethan Allias and Fletcher Harvey, among others, have anchored the back line and protected Latrobe’s effective goaltending tandem.

“Our whole defensive corps all protect the house and aren’t afraid to block shots, get sticks in the shooting lanes and take a sting,” Werner said. “We feed off that as a team. Our other guys let them know when they get to the bench, too.”

Offensively, Latrobe is balanced. The Wildcats score by committee, as Werner prefers to say.

“Tying everyone together are our centers,” he said. “Leading the way is our captain, Peyton Myers. He might not put a lot of points up, but he plays a 200-foot game. That’s what’s important.”

Other notables are Rocco Marno, Jacob Hannah, JD Robinson (the team’s assistant captain), Josh Coffee and Nik Manolakos.

“What’s important with those guys is their commitment to play defense,” Werner said. “They use that defense to play offense, and that’s exactly what we want.”


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