Hampton hockey rolls with punches

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Saturday, April 3, 2021 | 11:01 AM


The youthful Hampton hockey team endured a lot of growing pains this season.

The Talbots finished 4-14 in a season that started one month late because of the pandemic. They were shut down for two weeks in mid-February when a player tested positive after a practice, and two key players missed additional time as part of covid protocols.

But the Talbots focused on the other positives.

“The team endured so much away from the game,” coach Luke Leya said. “I am more than proud of them for competing the best that they could given the circumstances.”

Senior forward Mitch Hurst, the team’s leading scorer with 13 goals and 13 assists, said the players in October were “really nervous and didn’t think we’d have a season.”

“It was just really strange,” he said. “But in the end, I’m just happy to have had pretty much a full season for my senior year.”

The Talbots, who started the year 2-0, closed out the season with 6-3 loss at Latrobe on March 30. Team defense was the primary issue all season. Hampton allowed 125 goals (6.9 gpg). Only Butler (166) and Plum (133) surrendered more in the 45-team PIHL varsity A.

The Talbots were 3-1 when they scored the first goal, 1-13 when the opposing team did.

“I don’t want to come out and start making excuses, because obviously we could have done better and we should have,” said senior forward Ethan Varley, the team’s third-leading scorer with eight goals and 10 assists. “But we are a very young team.”

The Class AA Talbots had only three seniors on the 23-player roster — forwards Hurst, Varley and Josh Bianco, who finished with seven goals and seven assists.

Some of the top returning players for next season are junior defenseman Owen Cirlingione, who finished with five goals and six assists, and sophomore forwards Joey Pankowski (9-10) and Daniel Venture (7-7).

The Talbots also bring back both goalies, junior Brendon Frankel and freshman Nathan Dembowski.

The highlight of this season was a pair of victories over Mars and Plum in a one-week span in early March.

The Talbots erased a 3-1 deficit to beat visiting Mars, 9-6, on March 2 and snap a nine-game losing streak.

One week later, the Talbots survived a physical, see-saw game, beating Plum, 9-5. Hampton blew a 4-1 second-period lead and trailed 5-4 with under 12 minutes to play before scoring five goals in a row.

“There was a lot of physicality and a lot of emotion in that game,” said Varley, who was ejected from the game. “The stands were going crazy.”

In the third period, Varley took offense to a hit on freshman Erica Gynn, the lone girl on the Talbots roster. When the dust settled, Varley had received two 10-minute misconduct penalties, including one from the penalty box.

“She’s a very solid player, but she’s in ninth grade,” Varley said. “Her size isn’t there yet. I’m not saying players should or shouldn’t hit her just because she’s a girl, but there’s some plays where you just don’t need to hit.

“She got rid of the puck and a good three seconds went by and the kid just came and leveled her. … I stuck up for her.”

With Varley ejected, Hurst (twice), Sean Sullivan, Cirlingione and James Elk scored goals down the stretch for the dramatic victory. Another key to the win was Dembowski, making only his second varsity start in goal.

“Nathan did fantastic,” Hurst said. “He had an incredible game.”

Even with the win over Plum, the Talbots are 7-27 in the past two seasons and could be reclassified by the PIHL during the offseason.

“Next year I’m optimistic given what we have returning,” Leya said. “There is a chance for us to be reclassified. …However, I’m hopeful that wherever we land, we will improve from this year.”

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