Hampton hockey looks to continue success under Leya
Thursday, October 11, 2018 | 11:27 PM
A young, first-year coach will try to guide a young group of players to the top of the standings.
Sounds like a movie script, but it’s real at Hampton, where Luke Leya, a 2013 Hampton graduate, will take the reins for a group with limited varsity experience.
In fact, two-thirds of the team hadn’t taken the ice for a varsity faceoff prior to this season.
“I’m a young guy,” said the 23-year old Leya. “That’s a good and bad thing as far as trying to get everyone bought in and on-board with the age gap being so small. But I’ve learned to use it to my advantage, and it’s going well so far.”
Leya isn’t without proper credentials for the job. He spent three years as a JV and varsity assistant and because of that familiarity, has the ear of the team leadership.
Likewise, he knows what it takes to win at the program. He was a defenseman on the last Talbots squad to reach the Penguins Cup final in 2010.
“I treat everything else the same,” he said. “Practice, games, getting everybody on board. Getting everything in line from a compliance perspective. Nothing has really changed philosophy-wise. It’s just the administrative stuff.”
Additionally, no matter how young, Hampton is rarely void of talent. This year is no exception.
Star senior forward Justin Adamski, who has led the team in goals per game the past two seasons, chose to stay home and play with the T1EHL Pens Elite team, and will be available barring schedule conflicts. Senior forward and returning leading scorer Michael Orban, who plays in the Armstrong Amateur Hockey League, also is back.
“They should be two key pieces, along with Jake Mcgee,” Leya said. “Those guys and Will Meglio will be the only players we’ve had since they were true freshmen. With them, I definitely think we have a chance to make some noise this year.”
There was plenty of noise in the season opener against Shaler on Oct. 1, when Leya got his first win in a dramatic, 4-3 overtime victory that featured 16 shootout rounds.
The team also performed well at the annual preseason St. Margaret tournament, defeating Baldwin and defending WPIAL champion Armstrong. Hampton suffered a 5-3 loss to Class AAA power North Allegheny in the first game of the season.
“You have a team of 18 skaters and maybe 12 haven’t played a game of varsity,” said Leya of the NA loss. “Having to open against a powerhouse team like that, I was pretty proud of the boys.”
McGee, a junior goalie who was a part-time starter since his freshman year, formed one of the top duos in the PIHL last year with departed senior Connor Andrews. This year, he will split time with senior J.T. Nelligan.
“In the past years we’ve had success making them work for it and leaving the competition up to the kids,” Leya said. “I think that’s the way it should be.”
Converted defenseman and junior Luke Reiser will join veteran Meglio, a three-year starter, to form the base of a defense just getting its sea legs. The other four spots are new starters.
“I have a couple seniors and a couple juniors back there,” Leya said. “We’re all learning together, it’s fun. We’ve got big shoes to fill when you’ve lost 83 percent of your defensive core. Our opener, we played a pretty strong defensive game. I think those guys are following the lead of Meglio and Reiser.”
Matt Commendatore and freshman Adam Dembowski, who impressed the staff at tryouts with his size and speed, will join Orban and Adamski, respectively, on the top lines.
The perennial playoff team has found different paths for success. Two years ago, the Talbots led Class AA in goals. Last year, the team buckled down behind a veteran defense and goaltending duo. Leya is hoping for a hybrid of those two teams to get the best out of both ends.
“The first year we’d win games 7-6; last year we had two of the top five goalies in the league and it was more of a gritty grind,” he said. “I’d like to fine-tune the D and put the puck in the net a little more this year.”
Devon Moore is a freelance writer.