Franklin Regional’s young players learn grind of PIHL season

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Friday, February 21, 2020 | 6:02 PM


Going through the grind of a PIHL season can be a challenge.

The six-plus months of practices and games is taxing, especially for younger players.

Franklin Regional is not immune to the grind. However, the Panthers persevered and remained in the hunt for a Penguins Cup Class AA playoff berth heading into their last game of the regular season.

“I’ve seen a lot of improvement throughout the year,” Franklin Regional coach John Winebrenner said. “At the beginning of the year, people were guessing we’d be just under .500 and we’ll finish over. 500, so that’s a plus.”

The grind of the season caught up to Franklin Regional. Heading into the holiday break, the Panthers were 9-4, which included an unbeaten stretch from Oct. 15 through Dec. 10. However, the team has struggled in 2020. After beating Plum, 5-4, on Jan. 6, the team dropped its next five.

“We had some unfortunate games where things didn’t go our way after the Christmas break. We just couldn’t get our flow going,” Winebrenner said.

The team ended its drought with a key 5-1 win over West Allegheny.

“We had to bring back some simple. We were forgetting some of the simple things of the game, which happens from time to time,” Winebrenner said. “The boys felt really good about that win. It is a huge confidence booster to beat a team like West Allegheny.”

The win not only gave the team a boost, but it kept the Panthers alive for a postseason berth. Going into their final regular-season games, Franklin Regional (10-7-0) and Hempfield (10-7-0) were tied for the Southeast Division’s second playoff berth.

Franklin Regional has eight seniors in Jack Pekor, Alex Noll, Shane Prucnal, Trent Lunden, Kevin Cakanac, Nick Zeto, Joe Scherpereel and Kevin McCoy.

“We’re losing eight this year and a lot of the other programs are in the same boat,” Winebrenner said. “A couple others are losing 11 or 12. We won’t have that problem. We have half our team back, so that’s a plus for our program.”

While Lunden (33 points) and Cakanac (26) lead the team in scoring, three sophomores are next in Chase Williams (20), Luke Beatty (18) and Zach Abdallah (16). Zachary Zeto and Ben Yurko are two other key sophomores. Junior goaltender Gunner Fulton returns next year, too.

“The younger guys we have are key players to our lineup, for sure,” Winebrenner said. “Our sophomores have two more years in the program, and I am looking forward to working with them. We have some sophomores on our JV squad that’ll be coming up to fill the seniors’ positions. We have a pretty bright future.”

Some of those players, such as Luke Lavrich, Jeff Anderchak, Joe Borgia and Nic Lunden, have filled in at various times throughout the season, so they have gained some experience.

One thing the younger players have learned is that every point is crucial in a balanced Class AA.

“This was one of those years where it didn’t matter if a team is in first or last place, they had to be prepared to play and execute their systems every game because you could lose to anybody,” Winebrenner said. “We saw some tough teams get knocked off.

“Normally, teams at the top of the standings don’t have trouble when they play teams at the bottom of the standings. But you look at the scores of teams with three or four wins, there were a lot of one-goal games. That tells you how close they’re playing. We’re just hoping we can build off this season.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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