Kiski Area hockey continues remarkable turnaround

Sunday, March 8, 2020 | 5:41 PM

Kiski Area sophomore defenseman Aiden Sites said if he was told before the season the Cavaliers would be in the PIHL Class A semifinals he wouldn’t have believed it.

After all, the Cavaliers were coming off a one-win season, but after a 5-4 loss to Bishop McCort in the opener, Sites was confident this season was going to be different.

“A lot of people might see that and say, ‘Well, they lost,’ but we lost by only one goal. That wouldn’t have happened last year,” Sites said. “That’s when I knew this season was going to be a good one.”

The Cavaliers have a mix of young talent and veteran players who bonded and built confidence from the first game, and they will play Northeast Division rival Indiana at 7 p.m. Tuesday at RMU Island Sports Center for the right to play in the Class A Penguins Cup final.

“We thought we would have a little bit better of a team this year,” junior forward Michael Rayburg said. “I don’t know if we thought we were going to get this far, but it’s great that we did. We’re just going to play as hard as we can from here on out.”

Kiski Area (13-7-1) and Indiana (12-6-3) tied for first in the Northeast Division with 25 points, but the Cavaliers won the title by sweeping the season series. Both wins were one-goal games, but they were different.

In the first meeting in October, Indiana took 59 shots on goal, and Cavaliers goalie Eric Petika made 57 saves to steal a 3-2 shootout win. Mason Pierce scored both regulation goals for the Cavaliers, who managed 15 shots on goal.

“They were all over us that game,” Petika said. “I think I played a really good game, but my defense played really well in front of me, too. They cleared a lot of rebounds and cleared out people in front of the net, so I could see the shots.”

The rematch in December was a 5-4 win for the Cavaliers. Kiski Area went 3 for 5 on the power play and got goals from Rayburg, Pierce, Aidan Bardine, Nicolas Slomka and Matthew Drahos.

“We played a lot better,” Petika said. “Obviously, Indiana still played pretty tough against us, but I felt like we came out with a lot more intensity than we did the first time.”

The Indians feature six players who scored more than 20 points. Zach Eisenhower (22 goals), Danny Williams (17), and Korbin Wilson (15) lead the team in goals.

“They’re a very fast team,” Rayburg said. “They can come out of nowhere. They can be down and have the ability to get two quick goals and be right back in it.”

Rayburg, a junior, leads Kiski Area with 20 goals.

Part of Kiski Area’s success this season has come from an influx of impact freshmen. Kyle Guido, Matthew Drahos and Ethan George make up an all-freshman line. They combined to score the first goal in a 3-2 first-round win over Norwin. Sites and junior forward Jonathan Ayers had the other goals.

Colin Cline and Liam Alexander are freshman stalwarts on defense.

The freshmen have meshed well with the upperclassmen, including seniors Petika, Ian Graf, and Alex Orange.

“We won (Tuesday’s playoff game) for them,” Cline said. “They haven’t won a playoff game their entire high school careers, so it was good to help get them one.”

The feeling of respect is mutual for the seniors.

“They have my back and I have their back,” Petika said. “I want to win for them too.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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