Freeport hockey hopes to continue winning ways after shutdown

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Friday, December 25, 2020 | 4:02 PM


Excitement remains high for the Freeport hockey team despite having to work through a couple of stops and starts over the first two months of the 2020-21 PIHL regular season.

Covid-19 concerns and Thanksgiving slowed the Yellowjackets in November, and then they and the rest of the league were affected by the shutdown imposed by Gov. Tom Wolf as part of mitigation efforts to limit coronavirus spread.

When Freeport has played, it has produced strong numbers: a 3-0 record and a 17-7 goals advantage.

“It’s been an up-and-down roller coaster for these kids with the schedule, but they have bought in, and they know what kind of opportunity is in front of them,” said Yellowjackets coach Kelly Mason, who, along with his players, is looking forward to Jan. 4, when the shutdown orders are scheduled to end.

“It just comes down to the consistency of being able to come together and string some games together.”

When Freeport, led by Nico DiSanti’s five goals and seven points, gets back to action, it will try to hold off Kiski Area (3-1), North Catholic (3-1) and Fox Chapel (1-4) in a competitive Class A Northeast Division.

The Yellowjackets handed Kiski Area its only loss, 7-4, on Nov. 3, and they topped North Catholic, 5-1, two days later.

When Freeport returned to action Dec. 7, it beat Quaker Valley, 5-2, behind goals from DiSanti, Caleb Hoffman, Jack Mason, Marcus Trask and Sebastian Cordier.

“It took us a while to find our legs (against Quaker Valley),” Mason said. “It was a challenge for us. By the third period, we were getting back to normal.”

Games against Beaver (Dec. 17) and Fox Chapel (Dec. 22) were postponed.

“We’ve talked about what we’re doing in this down time with off-ice stuff,” Mason said. “We have a Zoom meeting next week where we will go over with the players how we can best prepare to play when we come back.”

Eight games across all four classifications are scheduled for Jan. 4 with 11 more set for Jan. 5. That includes Fox Chapel at South Park and Connellsville at Burrell (Class B) on Jan. 4 and Freeport at North Catholic on Jan. 5.

Mason said a practice is planned for his players Jan. 4.

“There’s a lot of people excited to get back on Jan. 4,” PIHL commissioner John Mucha said. “We’re still working on a return-to-play plan. We’re looking at an option where we would have part or all of that first week back be nothing but practices where teams use those game slots and ice time to get some work in and get back up to speed. The most important thing is the health and safety of the players, and we don’t want to do anything that would put them at risk.”

The plans, Mucha said, depend on whether or not Gov. Wolf keeps the Jan. 4 return date or decides to extend it.

“We will be OK if we don’t have any more shutdowns, and all the rinks open back up,” Mucha said.

Numerous games remain to be rescheduled.

The regular season, which began in early November, runs through mid-March, and the Penguins Cup playoffs are scheduled to start in April. The league, anticipating a number of postponements, built in a couple of open weeks in between to make up games as necessary.

“I’ve been impressed with the league,” Mason said. “They knew (canceled games) were going to be an obstacle, and they been rolling with the punches to make sure they get these games rescheduled. They went to the last possible minute last spring to see if they could get those championship games played. That commitment is there again this year. We all want to give the kids as many chances to get on the ice and play as possible.”

Kiski Area, fronted by 10 goals and seven assists from Stephen Rayburg, bounced back in a big way after the Freeport loss and hammered Fox Chapel (11-2), McDowell (6-1), and Blackhawk (8-0.) A key division game between the Cavaliers and North Catholic from Dec. 15 was lost to the shutdown.

Fox Chapel picked up its lone with an 8-2 triumph over Beaver Area on Nov. 24. Seven Foxes scored in the game, led by two from Andrew Rich, and nine earned points.

Like Freeport, Burrell has played just three games, but the last one, two days before the shutdown, got the Bucs (1-2) into the win column.

Burrell skated past Central Valley, 6-1, behind two goals and two assists from Luke Rose and two goals and an assist from Chantz Watkins.

Plum hopes for better things in the New Year after an 0-4 start in Class AA where it was outscored 29-4.

The Mustangs were in a battle with West Allegheny on Dec. 7 before the Indians got a third-period insurance goal en route to a 3-1 win. David Westbrook tallied his first goal of the season in the contest.

John Hanlon had a pair of goals to lead Plum.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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