Gateway hockey program focused on development

Sunday, November 29, 2020 | 11:01 AM

Gateway hockey coach Shawn Jesih sees a lot of potential in the freshmen and sophomores who make up the majority of the roster.

So much so that before the season, he bumped the Gators up from the PIHL’s Tier 3 JV league to Tier 2 knowing it would be a stiff challenge.

The Gators (0-6) are still finding their way in the early going, but Jesih has seen positive steps in the development of his young players.

“We have a lot of talent that has come up from the middle school level,” Jesih said. “Some of these kids have played at the amateur level and are a little better skaters overall. We wanted to take a chance and move up to push these kids to develop to another level of hockey.”

Jesih is in his fifth season with the Gators, who haven’t had a varsity team since 2016. The goal is to build the program back into one that competes at the varsity level, but the present involves the progression of five freshmen and six sophomores.

Part of that plan is identifying the strong points in each game.

“We’re progressing, and they have to take the little wins, whether it’s getting a shot on goal, blocking a shot or having a big body check,” Jesih said. “Those are little victories, and if you can keep those at the forefront, the score doesn’t matter as much.”

Freshman Gavin Green leads the team with two goals. Sophomore Jimmy Capell and freshman Seth Hunkele have split time in goal.

The Gators still are forging their identity, which Jesih envisions as a puck possession team.

“Currently, we’re at the point where I’m trying to get them to move the puck a little more,” Jesih said. “When you get the puck and go try to skate through four or five people, it just never works out, and we’re doing a little too much of that. We’re working on getting the puck from player to player, clearing the defensive zone and keeping the house secure and limiting the opponents’ quality chances from right in front. It takes time. It’s baby steps for us.”

Jesih has two seniors to lean on: team captain Bradyn Neuendorfer and assistant Christian Zola. Sophomore Brandon Cirruci was named an alternate captain.

“Braydn’s played at the amateur level and is a solid defensive talent,” Jesih said. “Christian has been with the program for four years, and he’s older, so he’s evolved into a leader for us. Brandon has a great positive attitude and always pushes himself to become a better player. He started ice hockey a little later than some, but he’s got a positive vibe about him.”

Jesih believes the future is bright for the Gators. He is excited about the young players he has this year and some players who will be moving up from the middle-school level in the future. Patience and continued growth are keys as the season wears on.

“Everything is cyclical in high school sports,” Jesih said. “At some point, we’re going to turn the page, whether it’s this year or down the road. The struggle with that is to not let the kids become discouraged in the interim.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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