Franklin Regional hockey shakes off slow start, heats up in 2nd half of season

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Saturday, February 11, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Franklin Regional hockey coach John Winebrenner said he knew the start of the 2022-23 season would be a test.

The Panthers graduated numerous starters who played in the PIHL Class 2A finals and six returning starters were recovering from serious preseason injuries.

Franklin Regional began the season 4-7, but things started to turn around in late December with an 8-7 win over 2022 champion Thomas Jefferson. It was the second time the Panthers defeated Jaguars.

Since then, the Panthers (8-8-1) have won four of six games, including a 7-3 victory against Bishop McCort, which features some Russian players.

“They had a full roster, and that’s the way we wanted to beat them,” Winebrenner said. “We’re starting to get healthy. We should be 100% for the first time all season.”

Seven players scored against McCort.

Matt Knizner, who was named PIHL player of the month for January, leads the Panthers with 18 goals and 19 assists.

Luke Lavrish has chipped in with 13 goals and 22 assists, while Nicholas Matus has 11 goals and 12 assists.

Despite dropping a 5-4 decision to South Fayette, Winebrenner was pleased with the effort.

“We’re playing well,” Winebrenner said. “We lost in the final two minutes. It was a good game.”

Winebrenner said his sophomores have been growing up on the fly. He said they’re starting to play well.

While Winebrenner said many players have stepped and have played well, two former forwards — Matt Rutkowski and R.J. Kelley — have helped the squad by switching to defense.

Winebrenner said both players have done superb jobs.

“We were inconsistent at times early in the season,” Winebrenner said. “But our goal is to finish strong and improve our seeding for the playoffs.

“Class 2A is loaded with good teams. You can’t afford to take a night off and expect to win. Armstrong and South Fayette are on top, and you can’t afford to make too many mistakes against them or it will cost you.”

Armstrong leads Class 2A with 30 points followed by South Fayette with 28, Bishop McCort with 22, Latrobe with 21, Thomas Jefferson and Penn-Trafford with 20, Franklin Regional with 17 and Hempfield with 15.

The Panthers have Mars, Latrobe and Hempfield left on the schedule.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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