Franklin Regional hockey adapting quickly to new coach

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Friday, October 4, 2019 | 6:53 PM


Franklin Regional’s hockey team has a new coach, but the goal remains the same — win a PIHL Penguins Cup championship.

John Winebrenner takes over behind the bench for the Panthers, who won PIHL Penguins Cup Class A titles in 2016-17. He has his own championship history as well. He led Latrobe to Penguins Cup and state titles in 2013.

“I am pretty excited about the season,” Winebrenner said. “I didn’t know how well we’d do at the St. Margaret tournament, but it took us just one game to get adjusted to some of the systems we want to work. They have the hang of it now. We’ve structured our systems around their strengths.”

The adjustment was easy for Franklin Regional, which beat Hampton, 4-3, to open the PIHL regular season.

“The transition has been pretty smooth,” Panthers senior forward Kevin Cakanac said. “We had pretty much the same forecheck we used in the past. The coaches have done really well. Things have been going pretty well so far.”

While Franklin Regional graduated some its mainstays from those championship teams, like dynamic forwards Olda Virag and Mathieu Sliva and goaltender Danny Soltesz, the cupboard isn’t bare. The Panthers welcome back two of their top four scorers in Trent Lunden (15 goals, 22 points) and Cakanac (12, 20).

“Speed and depth are very important and I think we have both of those,” Cakanac said. “A lot of these teams have a couple good players. I think we have a lot of players that know how to play hockey and can run good systems.”

Zach Abdallah joins Lunden and Cakanac on the team’s top forward line.

“It feels like Trent and I have had this chemistry our whole lives,” Cakanac said. “Our old coach would never put us on a line together and now we are. I am excited to see what we can do this season.”

Shane Prucnal, Kyler McCoy, Jake Rettger, Chase Williams, Zachary Zeto, M.J. Clemente and Danny Rafferty are some of the team’s other forwards. The defense returns mostly intact with Jack Pecor, A.J. Noll, Luke Beatty, Benton Yuko and Joe Scherpereel, who shifted from forward.

“I think our defense is a strength,” Cakanac said. “They’ve been running really smoothly. Their passing is going well. They are moving the puck up the ice efficiently. I felt, a lot of times last year, we were turning over the puck at bad times. I think that’ll change this year.”

Gunner Fulton, a junior, takes over in goal.

“He is just phenomenal,” Winebrenner said. “We got lucky to have him come in as the starter.”

The team can look to younger players, too. Franklin Regional’s junior varsity team won the PIHL Tier-II championship last season.

“We have a lot of seniors, so we have to get some JV guys up and get them into key situations. We have a lot of sophomores that are really talented,” Winebrenner said. “I have been there before with Latrobe and I can tell you that I have a team this year with very good speed and depth. If they stay focused, they have the potential to go all the way.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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