Fox Chapel hockey continues remarkable turnaround after winless season

Sunday, January 28, 2018 | 11:30 PM

Fox Chapel is one of the hottest teams in PIHL Class A, with a 4-0-1 record in its last five games putting the Foxes in playoff position entering the stretch run.

It's a solid streak given that the eight teams fighting for the five playoff spots in the class are separated by six points, but considering where the Foxes were just a season ago, it makes the recent run even more impressive.

The Foxes went winless in Class AA in 2016-17, went through a coaching change early in the season and scored only 27 goals.

Jason Silver took over after former coach Gregg Kaminski left the team after an 0-6 start last year. Even though the Foxes went on to lose their final 13 games, Silver said the work put in during difficult times sprouted success.

After starting 2-6 this season, the Foxes (8-6-1-1) rebounded and are in eighth place in the standings entering Monday's game with South Fayette. A dozen teams qualify for the postseason.

“Going through the process of losing all of our games last year was not easy, but I think it built character,” Silver said. “We went into the offseason knowing that greener pastures were ahead. All offseason, and even into the early part of this season where we stumbled, there was a lot of resolve in our team.

“Win, lose, or draw, we treat this thing the same way. We play our system, and the most important thing for us is we bring our compete level. I've been very happy with that.”

The system Silver installed focuses on having a cycle game deep in the offensive zone that wears down opponents and creates scoring chances.

The numbers show the Foxes have been successful at generating offense. They are averaging 37 shots per game — eight above the league average — five goals per game, and they have a plus-16 goal differential.

Chase Villani and fraternal twins Seth and Shane Krhovsky are forming a potent line for the Foxes. Villani and Shane Krhovsky are tied for the team lead with 37 points, and Seth Krhovsky has 29.

Fox Chapel also has scoring depth, which was on display in last week's 11-3 win over Freeport. Reed Troutman, who has played in nine games this season, scored twice in the win over the Yellowjackets. Colby Zmenkowski scored once and showed good speed throughout the game. They also have had contributions from the defense, with Willie Doyle scoring seven times to go with 12 assists.

“We've been stressing on our work down low in the offensive zone, and I think you could see that in (Monday's) game,” Silver said. “We didn't have any breakaway goals. Most of our goals were scored 5 feet in front of the net. That's because of the way the guys grind, compete and play below the (faceoff) dots.

“They've bought into playing our system. They're working hard, and I'm pleased to see that they are getting the reward for it.”

Villani joined the team after helping the Fox Chapel football team reach the playoffs. He immediately was placed on a line with the Krhovsky twins, and they found instant chemistry. Villani started at Fox Chapel but spent the last two years at Shady Side Academy before transferring back for his senior year.

The Krhovsky twins have been through the ups and downs in the program and are appreciative of how the current coaching staff has helped turn things around.

“Jason and (assistant) Eric Kosick brought a lot of good plays for us in the defensive zone, like a quick one or two passes to get it out,” Seth Krhovsky said. “That's helped create offense and led to us going from 0-19 to above .500 in one year.”

“Jason did a great job keeping our team together last year,” Shane Krhovsky said. “When a lot of teams would've crumbled, we stayed strong.”

Fox Chapel played tough against some of the top teams in the league, including in a heartbreaking loss to second-place Meadville. The Foxes led Meadville, 4-3, late in the third period but surrendered two goals in the two minutes.

The Foxes get a shot at the top team in the league, undefeated Bishop McCort, on Feb. 12. It will be important to obtain as many points as possible in the final four games, because teams around them in the standings have games in hand. Fox Chapel is four points clear of Deer Lakes, which is in 13th place and one spot out of the playoff picture.

“We told them that there were going to be a lot of people that will sleep on us and not expect us to be the team that we are,” Silver said. “I always tell the guys that the ebbs and flows in a hockey game are amazing, and if you can stomach those swings and just compete and play, you're going to have success no matter what level you are playing.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.


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