Kiski Area hockey writes remarkable turnaround tale

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | 5:20 PM


The Kiski Area hockey team wrote one of the bigger turnaround stories in high school sports in quite some time.

Coming off of a one-win season a year ago, the Cavaliers won a division championship and a PIHL playoff game to advance to the Penguins Cup semifinals.

Kiski’s magical season came to an end Tuesday night with a 4-2 loss to Indiana at Robert Morris University Island Sports Complex. The Cavaliers finished the season with a 13-8-1 record. After defeating Indiana twice in close contests during the regular season, the Kiski fire finally was extinguished.

“Honestly, we just didn’t have enough left (in the tank) at the end of the year,” first-year coach Mark Hastings said. The game was tied at 2-2 with less than five minutes to play in the third period.

Kiski defeated Norwin 3-2 in their quarterfinal game. For seniors Eric Petika, Ian Graf and Alex Orange, it was their first playoff victory.

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

Goaltender Eric Petika in particular was a source of inspiration for the Cavaliers. The senior netminder finished with an impressive 2.45 goals against average and a .900 save percentage on the year. In the first game against Indiana, Petika made 57 saves in a 3-2 shootout victory. He had 30 saves Tuesday night.

“They were playing for Eric,” Hastings said. “Eric played well this year and last year. He’s been our go-to. It’s going to hurt for us going into next year with a new goaltender.”

When asked how it felt to hear his teammates wanting to win for him and his fellow seniors, Petika was quick to return the favor.

“It makes me feel good,” Petika said. “It makes me feel like I’m playing my game well. And I just want to play for them, too.”

Flipping the script from last season was a great feeling for Petika and his fellow seniors.

“It was a good season,” Petika said. “It was a lot of fun. Going from last place to first place feels pretty amazing.”

The improbable worst-to-first season was even more impressive considering the fact that this season almost did not occur for Kiski.

“We were considering not even having a varsity team this year,” Hastings said. “We were just going to have a JV team. To be where we are is amazing.”

Kiski’s assistant coaches Chuck Sites and Bill Alexander also played pivotal roles in the team’s turnaround. Sites was quick to point out that the one-win season a year ago is even misleading.

“The one win we had last year was a forfeit,” Sites said. “So it really wasn’t even a win. So where they’ve come this year is just awesome.”

Getting this young team, which had eight freshmen on the roster throughout the season, to come together was no easy task. Sites and Alexander were both adamant about the reason the team jelled so well – Hastings.

“He brought them all together,” Alexander said. “Mark did a great job with the kids and we appreciate it. The kids love playing for him.”

Hastings responded to his assistant coaches’ praise as any great coach would.

“We play as a team. We win as a team, and we lose as a team,” he said.

The future appears to be bright for the Cavaliers as well. Kiski was led offensively by juniors Michael Rayburg, Mason Pierce and Jonathan Ayers, who all had double-digit goals. Three freshmen — Kyle Guido, Mathew Drahos and Ethan George — had double-digit point totals as well.

As for Hastings, the support he and the team received from the community was worth any number of wins on the ice.

“I want to thank our athletic department for doing what they did in helping us getting a bus here (against Indiana) to support us,” Hastings said. “We had 50 kids come from school, and that’s an hour and 20 minutes away on a bus. All year we had a great crowd at home, and to come (to Robert Morris) and support us is amazing. It’s a great feeling to see all of that up in the stands. And the kids all loved it.”

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