Hampton hockey shows glimpses of potential while gaining varsity experience

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Sunday, November 19, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Hampton hockey coach Buck McKee knew some growing pains awaited his young Talbots this season.

With a combined 12 freshmen and sophomores on the 18-man roster, experience was the biggest missing ingredient.

“They are all very talented, and as far as the skill level goes, I think we are deeper now,” said McKee, a second-year coach. “It’s just the lack of experience. Playing in your first varsity games can be pretty intimidating.”

After an 0-5 start in which they were outscored 39-8, the Talbots have started to reveal some of their potential to everyone else.

PIHL Class A All-Star senior forward Sean Sullivan and sophomores Gavin Durden and Daniel Leyes each recorded two goals and an assist to push Hampton to a 6-5 victory over Freeport on Nov. 9 for the elusive first win of the season.

The Talbots (1-5 as of Nov. 13) entered the night with only four wins in their previous 28 games dating to February 2021, including a 4-16 mark last year, their fourth consecutive losing season.

But, despite having only 12 healthy skaters, Hampton prevailed at Belmont Complex.

“We all played together through all three periods. That’s the big thing,” senior defenseman Andrew Bagnoto said. “It felt great. Everyone was fired up in the locker room. We are looking forward to the rest of the season.

“It made (the younger players) really see and believe that this team is capable of winning games.”

Through six games, Leyes led the Talbots with four goals and four assists. Sullivan, who scored a team-high 17 goals last season, and Durden each had three goals.

“When Sean is going, he’s our sparkplug,” McKee said. “He’s our captain for a reason. He plays the game the right way.”

Sullivan and Bagnato are two of only four seniors on the roster. The others are forward Joey Vinciguerra and backup goalie William Schwerin. The lone juniors are forwards Sam Modlin and Mason Vinciguerra.

That leaves a bunch of ninth- and 10th-graders to take on bigger roles in the 12-team PIHL Class A Blue Division

“The skill is deeper, and they will improve,” McKee said. “I’m fully confident that they will.”

Said Bagnoto, “I think we have some good leaders on the team, and the freshmen and sophomores seem like they want to step it up this year.”

Besides Leyes and Durden, the other sophomores are forwards Preston Cochran and Eli Schwarzbach and defender Eli Bukovac, each of whom has made key contributions this year.

Forwards Scott Cameron and Joey Stephenson, defensemen Eli Gynn and Ethan Hughes and goalie Kosta Sarris lead a promising freshmen class.

“He doesn’t have a ton of size, but, man, does he have a lot of heart,” McKee said of Cameron. “When his body catches up, I know he will be a dominant player.”

Sarris owned a 7.29 goals-against average after six games, but his coaches and teammates remained confident. He blanked undefeated Avonworth in the first period of an eventual 5-1 loss and did enough against Freeport to earn his first varsity win.

“I think he’s a highly skilled goalie,” McKee said. “He looks the part. … He battles extremely hard. He can make any save. It’s just him getting used to the caliber of what’s coming at him all of the time.”

Hampton was scheduled to play at Wheeling Catholic on Nov. 14 and host Moon at Frozen Pond Arena on Nov. 20 as it nears the midway point of the 20-game regular season that ends Feb. 19.

“We really need to try to keep it positive and encourage people to work their hardest,” Bagnato said. “That’s what we need to do to get things done.”

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