Freeport hockey ready to take next step with young core

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Monday, December 4, 2023 | 10:54 AM


There is a lot to look forward to with Freeport hockey.

The young Yellow Jackets started the season with a 1-5 record, but Freeport has racked up five points with two overtime losses and a shootout loss.

Freeport remained competitive in November, especially during a shootout loss to Moon, which stands near the top of the leaderboard in the division.

“We only have one senior, which is a really good senior goalie, Tyler Lang, and he’s phenomenal, but we do have a younger team,” coach Derik Gaworski said. “Me and my staff are really excited about the next couple of years with all these kids to make them hockey players and build or keep progressing every game and every shift. It’s a good thing to have such good talent at the younger grade levels to keep moving forward.”

Lang stopped 240 shots in eight games for a .892 save percentage. He said he is now in more of a leadership role.

“I try to do what I can for any of the kids,” Lang said. “I try, and if there’s anybody that they need to reach out to, to talk about anything on the ice or off the ice or in school, whatever, I try to be that guy. Ultimately, it comes down to the kids reaching out to me.”

Junior forward Zach Bowser leads the hive on the forecheck. He has tallied four goals and six assists for 10 points in nine games.

Forwards Landen Kozma (4 goals, 3 assists) and Aiden Bauman (3 goals, 3 assists), as well as team captain Jacob Miller (2 goals) have anchored the scoring.

“They drive our offense, and they drive our team,” Gaworski said. “The success of our team goes to our leadership group. Jacob Miller, our captain, Landen Kozma, Aiden Bauman, Zach Bowser, where they go, our team goes.”

Lang said the team’s speed has been key to their play up top.

“Our offense is pretty solid, I would say,” Lang said. “We got a lot of speed up front. Being the first year under new coaching, changing lines and having a bunch of younger kids, we’re definitely changing lines up a bit, so it’s taking a bit to get some chemistry, but they’re definitely starting to mesh together.”

With a talented core of offensive firepower, Gaworski and the new coaching staff want the team to control the puck.

“We try to make plays,” Gaworski said. “We’re trying to build hockey players and not just chasing the puck all around. We try to control the puck, playing in the neutral zone and entering the zone with control. We try to play above the puck, where our skates are facing north, always playing above the puck. Defensive responsibility first and then capture a transition play into offense.”

The team’s coaching staff features Gaworski, who played ACHA hockey for Robert Morris; Brendon Zack, who played NCAA hockey for Buffalo State; and Cole Hepler, who played NCAA hockey for Lebanon Valley.

Lang said the old coaching staff preached dump-and-chase hockey, but he enjoys seeing the new style of play and how the high school hockey game has changed.

“It’s definitely been a change of pace for me,” Lang said. “We’re playing a slower, more controlled game than what we typically are used to. But it’s not anything that I haven’t experienced. It’s more just a piece of high school hockey changing from the last three years that I’ve played to this year.”

Jake Suwan and Nick Dobransky, Freeport’s top defensemen last year, graduated, but Gaworski trusts in his defensive corps. He said Nick Jones, who scored two goals last week, has shown progress. He is confident that his defense will push the offense, and they’ll play above the puck and help transition to offense.

“Nick had a couple goals and a point in a game,” Gaworski said. “We’ve been in there with games, losing games really close in overtime or shootout. Defensively, even with Liam McKivigan and Jack Crawford, we have some good defense that can push the offense.”

Lang added that losing Suwan and Dobransky, who combined for 45 points last season took quite the hit, but he mentioned that the new coaching staff has had an impact on developing talent.

Overall, Gaworski said the team is improving and has progressed quicker than expected. Four of the past five games have been one-score decisions.

“Coming up to the stretch, your record might not be as flattering as we expected, but I think we will be a very tough team because we have a really good goaltending,” Gaworski said. “As long as you have great goaltending and can capitalize on special teams, you’re in every game and that’s what we’re striving for.”

Lang and the team gained confidence after a tight outing against Moon where they lost 3-2 in a shootout. He mentioned that as long as the Yellow Jackets get some pucks to the net and tally some goals, the team will be a tough out.

“Moon was one of the top-ranked teams coming into that game, and I feel like everyone thought that it was going to be a blowout going into that game,” Lang said. “We’re almost at that halfway mark, so I’m glad to see that it’s starting to turn around now, but we definitely have the potential to get a couple more wins on our belt and be in a good spot.”

Gaworski’s ultimate goal for the team is to build hockey players, and he is glad to see the team’s improvement.

“We’ve been playing good responsible hockey, through the neutral zone, through the defensive zone, playing good in the defensive zone coverage, which transitions that good offense,” Gaworski said. “That’s what we’re trying to focus on. It’s a new staff, and we’re in our first year. We have a young team, and we’re trying to build on not for this year, but for years to come, and I think the kids have a good leadership group, a great leadership group that can buy in and move our process forward quicker.”

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