Franklin Regional hockey winning with defense

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Saturday, November 30, 2019 | 9:42 AM


Shoring up the defense was one of the Franklin Regional hockey team’s goals early in the season.

So far, so good for the Panthers. They’ve been able to rank among the PIHL Class AA’s stingiest defenses through their first seven games.

“We’re really pushing defense now. That’s the name of the game,” Franklin Regional coach John Winebrenner said. “We’re turning the shot clock around, which is important too.”

Defensemen A.J. Noll, Kyler McCoy, Jack Pekor, Ben Yurko and Luke Beatty have settled into the new system in Winebrenner’s first season behind the Franklin Regional bench.

“I am happy with how things have gone,” Winebrenner said. “We have our lines set up the way we want them, and the boys are seeing results and buying into the systems, for sure.”

More keys to the Panthers’ defensive success have been the junior varsity players who have filled in as the sixth defenseman.

“It’s been a mix of players. We’re working close with our JV coach on the decisions on who comes up,” Winebrenner said. “Overall, we have seven seniors we’re losing after this season and I want these JV players up and ready for varsity.”

Gunner Fulton has been reliable in his first year as starting goaltender, too.

“He’s been solid. We’re working hard to get him that shutout,” Winebrenner said. “He’s consistent every game. He is putting up decent numbers, too.”

Franklin Regional’s forwards have committed to helping out on defense as well.

“It’s been really good, so far. Working with the new coaches has been great,” Panthers senior captain Trent Lunden said. “We’re real happy with our defense. Not only are we cutting down shots against, but we’re been putting up a lot of shots. The offense is there, too.”

Lunden leads the team with nine goals and 13 points, and linemate Kevin Cakanac is next with eight goals and 12 points. However, those two are not the only ones doing damage.

“We’re a really deep team. I think everyone in the league knows that. We’re a hard team to play against. We have a lot of kids that can score. It’s great,” Lunden said. “I think it’s really important to have multiple lines that can score. You can’t win games playing with one dominant line. You have to have depth throughout the lineup.”

Franklin Regional opened the season with a 4-3 win over Hampton but dropped a 9-4 decision to Hempfield. The Panthers rallied to beat Penn-Trafford (6-5), Quaker Valley (4-1), Meadville (7-2), Armstrong (7-4) and Shaler (4-3).

“I am glad we lost early,” Winebrenner said. “You have to have that loss to learn how to overcome it. The last thing you want is to go undefeated. Being undefeated in the playoffs is really bad because you definitely can’t lose then. We have that pressure off our shoulders early.

“Now, we can just take it one game at a time, which is important in our division. In Double-A, you can’t take a night off. There is no such thing as an easy win. It’s a difficult division.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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