Knoch hockey enjoying return to varsity competition

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018 | 5:42 PM


Knoch hockey coach Ryan Cooper watched his team celebrate on the ice after a hard-fought 3-2 shootout victory over McDowell two weeks ago, knowing it was a pretty big moment.

After all, the Knights hadn’t fielded a varsity team in six years and it reaffirmed the decision the program made to move up.

“They were hugging at center ice like we had won a championship, which was awesome to see,” Cooper said. “They knew that it was good to get that first varsity win. It was the first time that they could experience that together as a group.”

So far, the move up has been a positive one.

The Knights are 1-2 in PIHL Division II after a 5-2 loss to Central Valley on Monday.

Cooper took over Knoch in the spring after seven years at Freeport. He really didn’t know much about the program other than that it had been in the junior varsity ranks for quite some time. But after a summer session he saw a group that was small in numbers, with only 13 skaters, but one that had nine seniors and was talented enough to make the jump.

“I think the kids are amped up for the challenge,” Cooper said. “We presented the option to them once we made our assessment, and I got the overall impression that they wanted to give it a go at the next level. I was willing to give them the opportunity, because we have the talent. Our bench is short. That’s a detriment, but you work with what you have.”

Knoch has a co-op with Slippery Rock and Moniteau.

The Knights dropped their opener 7-1 to Connellsville, but rebounded nicely in their home opener with McDowell. Cooper described it as a back-and-forth, exciting game. The shootout was tied after three rounds before freshman Colton Huff stepped up and buried his chance to seal the win. That led to players spilling over the boards, chasing him down to celebrate.

“I had played JV for a while and to step up to varsity was a ‘what are we in for?’ type deal,” Knoch forward/defenseman Kyle Errera said. “The first game was kind of rough. We got a feel for the tempo of the game. We got our stuff together for that second game, and it felt great to get that win, because it was tight the whole way. It was a great overall win for the team.”

Errera is one of two players who go to Slippery Rock, along with Michael Dudich, and is one of the nine seniors. He’s known as a flex player by Cooper because he can play both offense and defense.

Each night when Knoch takes the ice, it’ll likely have a shorter bench than its opponent. Cooper said that played a factor in the opening loss to Connellsville, because they were worn out late in the game.

To counteract having a smaller roster, Cooper has taken a couple of steps to help the team’s conditioning. One is a workout regimen that gives details on how to train each day and the other is dieting properly. The dieting aspect focuses on what to eat 24 hours before a game to have the best fuel possible prior to a game.

Errera has been training and dieting with the program given to him by Cooper since he met him in the summer, and he’s seen positive results.

“Usually I eat slightly buttered and salted noodles with boiled chicken on top the day before a game,” Errera said. “I know it doesn’t sound the greatest. It’s pretty bland, but it helps because 24 hours later right at game time I’m feeling better when I hit the ice than I ever have.”

Another aspect Cooper has embraced is advanced analytics, which are akin to sabermetrics. Advanced analytics are used by the majority of teams in the NHL to scout opponents and rate players.

“Every practice he always talks about Corsi,” Knoch senior forward Jacob Golab said. “He’s jammed it into our brains, and what Corsi is about is trying to get shot attempts on net. The more attempts we get on net, the better chance we have to score. That’s one of the things that he’s brought to the table.”

Golab, a senior, plays on a line with leading scorer Camden Jackson, who has two goals and an assist. The Knights have two senior goalies, Joel Cendrowski and Lucas Hentschel. They will split time, along with junior Scott Moody. Defenseman Lance Cotton is the team captain.

The Knights still have 16 games on the schedule, but when it comes to late February when the season is winding down, they hope they find themselves in the playoff discussion. They believe their strong attitude and mentality will carry them through even in adverse moments.

“We never give up, and that’s the key,” Golab said. “When we are down, we know we can come back no matter what the score is. We all keep our heads up, and I think that’s one of the best things about this team.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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