Kiski Area hockey program moving in right direction, hungry for more

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Monday, February 1, 2021 | 7:46 PM


Optimism surrounded the Kiski Area hockey team as it entered the 2020-21 season.

A youthful group last year made a run to the semifinals of the PIHL Penguin Cup Class A playoffs.

The Cavaliers battled Indiana for a spot in the finals but were dealt a 4-2 season-ending loss.

That made the team hungry for more, senior forward Mason Pierce said. As the team enters the second half of its schedule, Pierce and his teammates are looking to take that next step.

“Last year was probably the most fun year of hockey I’ve had yet,” said Pierce, who has seven goals and seven assists for a Kiski Area team that stands 6-3 in a competitive Northeast Division with Freeport (5-0), North Catholic (6-3) and Fox Chapel (3-6).

“We came from a season my sophomore year where we didn’t win a game. We started to compete with top-level teams. We had a student section that was behind us the whole entire year. Making the semifinals was a big step for the team and for the school. There are a lot of similar, strong teams in Class A, and it is shaping up that any one of us can make a run. You have to be ready to play each night. We have a nice mix of fast, skilled players and physical players who all want to keep winning. We have everything we need in our locker room. We just have to stay focused.”

Covid-19 has toyed with every aspect of high school athletics this year, and it delayed the start of the PIHL season to November. Additional stops and starts to the season schedule have caused teams headaches.

Kiski Area opened with a 7-4 loss to Freeport on Nov. 3, but it bounced back a week later and throttled Fox Chapel 11-2 behind a hat trick and two assists from senior Michael Rayburg and two goals and three assists from senior Jonathan Ayres.

Pierce, Rayburg and Ayres form the top forward line for the Cavaliers, and the trio heads into Thursday’s 9:10 p.m. matchup with Quaker Valley at the Baierl Ice Complex with a combined 22 goals and 22 assists.

“We’ve been playing pretty well recently, so it gives us hope that we can go far,” said Rayburg, who leads Kiski with 10 goals and seven assists despite missing two games.

“We are working well as a team and not just going out there and doing our own things.”

The Cavaliers have surrendered just 10 goals in eight games since the opener. Kiski suffered a 3-2 loss to South Park on Jan. 21 but responded with a 5-2 triumph over Westmont Hilltop in its most recent outing Jan. 25. Senior defenseman Rowan Alexander scored twice to lead the way against the Hilltoppers.

Kiski scored a key 3-1 Northeast victory over North Catholic (6-3) on Jan. 19. Playing without Rayburg, Kiski got goals from Pierce, Alexander and sophomore forward Nicholas Miles.

The defense was stingy, as sophomore Evin Brice faced just 13 shots, stopping 12.

“That was a tough game because of the physicality,” Kiski Area coach Mark Hastings said. “There were a lot of penalties (19) on North Catholic’s side. We made sure to keep our boys under control as best as possible, and they came away with a good win.”

Brice, Mark Hastings said, has come on strong in his first series of games since taking over between the pipes from the graduated Eric Petika, a 2020 PIHL Class A all-star selection. Brice owns a 2.12 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage (141 for 158).

“We were a little concerned about how much Eric was going to be missed, but Evin came right in and has played well,” Hastings said. “He’s a big, tall, skinny kid, but he’s very athletic. He moves around pretty well.”

Hastings said his sophomore line of forwards Kyle Guido, Ethan George and Matthew Drahos, who also play together in amateur hockey, is coming along nicely.

Guido is fourth on the team in points with 10 (six goals, four assists).

“I only see them getting better and better in the coming years,” Hastings said.

The Clinger brothers – Matt, a junior forward, and Ryan, a sophomore defenseman – are newcomers to the team this year, and Hastings said they have made an impact. Matt has three goals and three assists in six games.

“They’ve added more flair to the lineup,” Hastings said.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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