Gateway hockey team continues to build toward success

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Sunday, October 3, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Shawn Jesih has high hopes this season for the Gateway junior varsity ice hockey team, the organization’s highest-level squad in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League.

The Gators, who haven’t fielded a varsity team since the days of Tyler Perhac, Jonathan Kasper, Cam Cacolice and Jordan Mardirossian a little more than a half decade ago, are taking steps in their JV division, and Jesih said likes what he has seen so far.

“They definitely want to win,” said Jesih, the Gators JV head coach the past five years.

“You can see that in their play, in the heart they have for the game and how much they care for each other. That is going to pay dividends at some point.”

Gateway, who began preparation for the season with dryland training in July, kicked off its season Sept. 20 with a 2-1 loss against North Hills at Palmer Imaging Arena, formerly known as Center Ice Arena, in Delmont.

The Gators then fell to Kiski Area, 4-1, last Monday. Gateway was slated to play Deer Lakes last Thursday.

“There are kids who have really stepped up to leadership roles and have embraced the opportunity to build up the overall program,” Jesih said. “It’s been fun to watch the chemistry develop among the players. Even though we lost to North Hills and Kiski Area, both were respectable showings. I think we are trending in the right direction.”

There are 14 players rostered to the Gateway JV team this year, and none of them are seniors. Jesih said that also gives him optimism for beyond this season.

Of those 14, nine were members of the JV team last year.

“Just until recently, we would have a handful of maybe three or four kids with a more extensive hockey background with years of experience, and then the other 10 or so would be relatively new to the game within the past couple of years,” Jesih said.

“This is the first year that I can recall us having a pretty well-rounded (JV) group. We don’t have head-over-heels superstars on the team, but they are all pretty sound and solid hockey players. They are just young. Even though we are playing JV, were still playing teams who have seniors and junior-caliber players and also amateur triple-A type players.”

There are also an additional 12 on the Gateway middle school team from grades 7 to 9. Of those 12, six are freshmen and eighth graders who will be eligible to join the JV team next year.

Freshman Brendan Luptak scored even strength off an assist from sophomore Hayden Hines 10 minutes into the third period against North Hills to cut a two-goal deficit in half. However, the Gators were not able to net the equalizer over the final three minutes.

Luptak, a student at Woodland Hills playing for the Gators under a co-op between Gateway and Woodland Hills, Derry and Jeannette, returned the favor against Kiski Area, assisting Hines’ third-period tally.

Luptak is the only non-Gateway student on the Gators JV squad.

With just 14 players overall, and 12 of them skaters beyond the two goalies, emphasis again has been placed on physical fitness.

“The off-ice conditioning really helped before we got on the ice for practices,” Jesih said.

“There were things, certain core exercises, they also did on their own to get stronger and get in good shape. We would have them do things like box jumps and wind sprints, things that would help simulate a hockey shift of a minute to a minute and a half. We aren’t looking for marathon runners, but they need to be able to handle short bursts with a lot of energy. Their physical conditioning this year is probably the best I’ve ever seen.”

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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