Hempfield carries momentum into Penguins Cup playoffs

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Saturday, February 29, 2020 | 7:37 PM


Hempfield’s hockey team needed to reset.

A 2-0 loss to South Fayette on Feb. 10 left the team frustrated, especially after outshooting the Lions, 42-21. A 6-3 setback to Latrobe followed three days later, and the Spartans’ postseason hopes became cloudier.

However, the Spartans (11-7-0) rebounded to win their final two games to close the regular season. They secured the Southeast Division’s final playoff spot, one point ahead of Franklin Regional (10-7-1).

“We got up for those last two games and went hard,” Hempfield coach Eric Grant said. “We got back to playing our game. We played a nice game against Hampton, who played a lot harder than the score shows. We were excited we earned our spot in the playoffs. We were pretty nervous, though. Franklin is a great team and a young team, and they had quite a push to get in. They’re only going to get better in the future.

Hempfield opens the PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA tournament against Plum (9-8-1) at 8 p.m. Monday at Pittsburgh Ice Arena. The Spartans beat the Mustangs, 9-2, on Dec. 9.

“We did play them strong earlier in the season. But it’s a brand-new season when you start playoffs. We’re starting all over again,” Grant said. “We’re not going to take them lightly. We know we’ll have to play well. The idea is to get shots and try to finish on those shots and attack the net. Plum has good goaltending, and we have our work cut out for us.

“This classification is very, very strong, top to bottom. On any given night, any team can make a difference. We have to be prepared to play and come with intensity. It doesn’t matter what team you’re playing.

Hempfield senior captain Trent Gray knows his team must be focused.

“Beating them in the regular season means absolutely nothing now. Everybody has a fresh slate,” he said. “A bunch of us from our team know some kids from their team, so it becomes a rivalry game for us. It’ll be a good game. I expect it to be a tight game. Whether we get down or up quick, we have to play the whole way through.”

Establishing an early lead is crucial.

“It’s a matter of how we start,” Gray said. “Not that we can’t come back if we get down early, but if we start out good and keep our foot on the gas the whole way through, we should be good.”

Hempfield’s offense produced 90 goals during the regular season. It developed depth, too. Matt Traczynski led the way with 31 goals and 50 points. Christian Konieczka was next with 12 goals and 36 points. Gray added eight goals and 25 points. Zach Ridilla (10 goals, 23 assists), Aiden Dunlap (10 goals, 16 assists), Jacob Holtzman (four goals, 16 assists) and Nick Bruno (three goals, 13 assists) also had double figures in points.

“When we started the season, we had one line. Generating a ton of offense was key to a good, strong start,” Grant said. “What came along was the rest of the team. Everyone who has played up this year has a point. While Matt and Christian have lit it up, some other guys are coming on strong. It’s a nice, deep group. They are very mature. They look at this as a great opportunity. I am happy with their development.”

Said Gray: “Our depth is huge. Teams will try to match up against certain guys, so being able to to run three lines and three sets of defensive pairs is huge. Not only do we have three lines that can play, we have three sets of defensemen that can all score, too. From top to bottom, we look really, really good right now. Everyone is getting points and our goalies are doing well. I have confidence in both of them and confidence in the whole team.

While the Spartans are a second seed out of their division, they believe they can be a factor.

“I think any team can beat any team on any given day, no matter how good one team is or how bad one team is. I think a lot of these teams are equal, and everybody can beat everybody,” Gray said. “Every night, you have to come to play and play hard. You can’t look down on any team or look up at any team. We can’t look at the scores from the regular season, either. We just have to play and play our game. If we do that, I think we’ll be perfectly fine.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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