Greensburg Salem hockey team hungry for more success

Monday, January 9, 2023 | 11:17 AM

It’s been a lot of fun for the Greensburg Salem hockey team to quite often assemble and break bread. The guys seem to enjoy gathering at the conclusion of a spirited practice.

A tight-knit group, with most players having been together since middle school, this dogged bunch has mostly craved fare from Dino’s Sports Lounge in Hempfield and Primanti Brothers in Greensburg.

Of course, they cherish their time on the ice, too, where the Golden Lions were tied with Fox Chapel for first place in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League Class A Blue Division before Monday night’s scheduled home game against Plum.

Both teams were 11-1-0 and had accumulated 22 points.

“I’ve never been on a team that’s been this close to each other,” said Sam Spigarelli, a senior co-captain for Greensburg Salem. “I’ve never been on a team where we’ve gone out to eat after practice, like this team does. It’s fun being together.”

Winning surely helps.

“They’re a good group,” Greensburg Salem coach Corey Mentch said. “They understand the potential we have. They’re genuinely happy to see each other succeed. We’re all on this boat together. They have the potential to do what we’ve not done before.”

During the recent holiday break, however, Greensburg Salem was given a dose of reality when the Golden Lions wound up on the short end of a pair of one-sided scores against two PIHL Class 2A teams at the PA Scholastic Hockey Showcase, losing to Franklin Regional, 8-3, and Thomas Jefferson, 5-2.

They managed to salvage a 4-2 victory over Lakewood-based Team Ohio in their third and final game of the two-day event at Alpha Ice Complex in Harmar.

“Yeah, not our best showings,” Mentch said, “but a learning experience against good competition.”

Hopefully, he said, the ordeal will pay off.

“We all have the same thought in our head, but we haven’t gone and set a concrete goal yet,” Mentch said. “Coming out of this break, I think we know what that goal will be. For me, it’s nothing short of a Penguins Cup. I really think we could compete for a state title.”

Greensburg Salem has played in just one Penguins Cup championship game, losing to Plum, 5-3, in the 1988-89 Class A game, or as Mentch jokingly referred to it, “before I was born.”

Plum went on to win the Pennsylvania Cup championship that season by routing Flyers Cup champion Cardinal O’Hara, 10-4.

“We’re well-rounded,” Mentch said. “Most of these guys have been playing together 5-6 years now. They know each other’s tendencies. The few guys who joined a little bit later, they were at least familiar with the others.”

Despite getting 12 victories last season, the most under Mentch, Greensburg Salem was left out of the PIHL playoffs on a three-team tiebreaker. It has been a motivating factor for the Golden Lions these days.

“The way I see it, there’s two ways to handle it,” Mentch said. “You either respond or sit back and take it. What they’ve done on the ice this year has shown how they’ve responded to that.”

A simple solution, Spigarelli offered, is to continue taking “a business-like approach.

“It sounds cliche,” he said, “but it’s true. We just need to make sure we’re playing the right way. We’ve established an identity at this point, and that’s a very confident and skilled team in all three zones (offense, defense and neutral). We put a lot of emphasis on the neutral zone. That’s many times where games are won or lost.”

Despite going 1-2 in the recent exhibition tournament, Greensburg Salem has been racing through the PIHL schedule nearly unscathed.

Seven of the team’s first 12 games have resulted in a victory margin of at least six goals.

“We just need to make sure when we get into these situations that we keep our plan in mind,” Spigarelli said. “We can’t be developing bad habits. We’ve got to make sure we’re playing with a swagger.”

Another senior co-captain, Owen Tutich, was leading Greensburg Salem in scoring and was second in the 11-team Class A Blue Division with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists).

He trailed only Nico Catalde of McDowell, who totaled 38 points.

A trio of Greensburg Salem players were bunched down the list, led by juniors Carter Cherok (12 goals, 10 assists, 22 points) and Chase Kushner (12-9-21) and senior Colten Humphrey (8-11-19).

Sophomore Tristan Gonzales (7-1-0, 1.75 goals-against average) and junior Ethan Patrick (4-0-0, 1.25) have been stellar, but Mentch said they’ve not been tested as much because Greensburg Salem has succeeded in keeping the puck in the opposition’s end.

“Part of the number you’re seeing in that goals-against column is a result of us possessing the puck,” Mentch said. “We have the puck on our sticks as much as possible. Part of that relates to the defense and part to the goaltenders.”

Gonzales’ minutes in net have doubled that of Patrick’s total as Patrick, in just his third year at the position, continues to nurse a broken finger.

“Ethan is a little bit newer to the position, but he’s come a long way,” Mentch said. “The learning curve on that position is pretty steep. We know we can lean on Tristan. He’s got experience, not just on this team. We went undefeated in middle school (in 2018-19) with him in goal before we lost to North Hills, and they have only one (varsity) loss.”

Tutich insisted he’s remaining focused on the future of this season. Personal statistics, he said, matter only if the team succeeds.

“Greensburg Salem hasn’t always been the best program,” Tutich said, “but we’re getting a little notice now. People — random kids in school, adults — they’re asking what we’re doing. When I tell them, they just go, ‘Oh, wow.’ It puts a smile on my face to see their reaction.”

“And, we’re starting get more of a crowd for games, mainly more students.”

Tutich was hoping for a big turnout Monday night against Plum at Nevin Arena in Greensburg as PIHL action resumed after an extended layoff.

“We’ve all come up together,” Spigarelli said. “Since seventh grade, when ‘Coach Corey’ started coaching us all, I think he had it in his mind we could get to the next level. “You have to be selfless.”

And maybe a bit more hungry.


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