Hajdukiewicz steps into spotlight for Sewickley Academy hockey

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Friday, November 16, 2018 | 9:27 PM


Fox Chapel played its top defensive pairing nearly every time Sewickley Academy’s best player touched the ice, a smart, but unsuccessful strategy by the final horn.

Matthew Hajdukiewicz is not worried about the challenges other opponents might present in an attempt to neutralize him, not after scoring each of his team’s five goals in a win over Foxes last week.

It’s been that type of breakout season for Hajdukiewicz, a senior who has had a hand in 74 percent of his team’s points with 17 goals and six assists through seven games.

“The team is definitely playing well right now,” Hajdukiewicz said. “I’m lucky that people are finding me and giving me opportunities in different situations to put the puck in the net. Everyone is back, and now we’re moving the puck better as a unit. The whole power play unit is playing well.”

Hajdukiewicz’s skills have always been obvious, according to his long-time mentor Steve Emmett, who has coached up-and-coming youth stars for two decades in the United States and Canada.

“I’m not surprised he’s doing so well based on who he is, the school he’s with and his coach (Chris Chiusano),” Emmett said. “I’m glad he’s doing so well. I’m sure more people will hear about him. The biggest thing for him was his confidence. He’s a smart hockey player. He’s got the hockey IQ. It’s just don’t I think he was ready (until now).”

Hajdukiewicz just needed more trust in himself to go from a goal-per-game player last season to being a threat to score a hat trick every night the puck drops.

He felt there wasn’t a choice in the matter; he had to be the Panthers’ unquestioned leader.

“As a senior, I felt if I took my game to another level, I could really help the team,” Hajdukiewicz said. “Knowing I was the captain, if there were situations that we struggled in I felt like I had to go out, take responsibility and give us a chance to win every game.”

The small details in Hajdukiewicz’s approach to the game have paid dividends.

His most effective strategy in the offensive zone is to carry the puck across the blue line and toward the center of the offensive zone until he rips a shot.

“I’ve realized that to beat a lot of goalies you’re going to need a screen in front of the net,” he said. “On the rush you won’t always have someone on your team going to the net, so you need to use whatever you can to disrupt the goalie’s vision. If you can get near the center of the ice and one of his defenders in front of him, you might be able to put the puck in the net if he can’t see it.”

He also isn’t fazed by how many defenders are around him, feeling he can outplay anyone trying to stop him.

“It’s all about my confidence,” Hajdukiewicz said. “If in the past, I came into the zone against two defenders, I’d usually pull up to wait for help and dish the puck off. Now, going into the zone I feel confident. I’m also not looking over my shoulder. I’m just taking over and doing what I know I can before looking for someone else.”

Emmett believes Hajdukiewicz has the talent to be a Division I hockey player, but he’s only focused on this season.

“I came into this season really feeling like I could take over and take my game to the next level,” Hajdukiewicz said. “I think just believing in myself allows me to go out every night to play how I want to and to show people what I can really do.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer.

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