Latrobe hockey looking to get back on track against Franklin Regional
By: Joe Sager
Sunday, January 13, 2019 | 7:18 PM
Latrobe’s hockey team is looking to reverse momentum.
The Wildcats had a successful early part of December. They won three games going into the holiday break, but then they went 0-3 at a holiday tournament at Harmarville. Latrobe rebounded for a 5-0 win over Moon to open 2019, but dropped a 4-3 decision to Baldwin last Monday.
“We’re trying to find that chemistry again,” Latrobe senior forward Cole Novak said. “Our next couple games are division games. If we can get on a roll going through there, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Fortunately for Latrobe (10-3-0), only one of the four losses in its last five games have counted in the PIHL standings. The team remains tied for first in the Class 2A Southeast Division with Upper St. Clair at 20 points. Hempfield (18 points) and Franklin Regional (16) are right behind. That’s why the Wildcats’ game against Franklin Regional on Monday takes on more importance.
“We know Franklin will throw everything they have at us. They are a good team and well-coached,” Latrobe coach Josh Werner said. “They have a lot of good players on that team and a good goalie. It’s going to take the whole team giving an A-plus effort for three periods to come out victorious. It’ll be a good test for us to see where we are at this point in the season. We’re sitting pretty good in our division. Coming up, we have a lot of division games that are going to matter. Right now, we have to find our game and make sure we’re consistent.”
Added Novak, “It’s a pretty big game. Our division is so tight. If you take a game or two off, you could go from first to fourth. The other ones coming up are big, too.”
Werner was not pleased seeing his team fall into a 2-0 hole in the first period against Baldwin.
“Baldwin is a good team, but we had kind of a lazy first period and tried to turn it on in the second and third. We knew they’d give us a fight, and they got the last bounce,” he said. “We have to find some consistency in our play. Hopefully, that opened up the eyes for these kids and they see what kind of effort it’ll take for us to win a division title again and be ready for the playoffs.”
Offensively, Latrobe ranks as one of the Class 2A’s top offensive teams with 66 goals, which ranks third. The Wildcats have received balanced scoring. Alex Walker leads the way with 28 points. Novak is second with 26, and Greg Ferri (24), Jarred Stein (22) and Lane Ruffner (18) are right behind. Eight more skaters have at least one goal.
“Early on, we were kind of a one-line team. Being able to separate some guys and get all four of our lines scoring, producing and having good shifts throughout the game really balances us out and makes us a dangerous team,” Werner said. “It’s definitely good to have that depth throughout the team. Every year, we look for that balance. It’s good to be able to throw out any of the lines and know they can produce and play defense, too.”
The balance creates matchup problems for opponents.
“A lot of teams, if they only have one line scoring, it’s easy to cover that one line. If you beat that one line, you’ll win,” Novak said. “We have a lot of guys who can score and we can mix things up. It’s tough for teams to defend that when we’re playing well and scoring.”
Latrobe hopes defensemen Darick Hrtyanski, Ean Lamolinara, Valentino Plaitano, Dalton Lute and Ruffner continue to improve as well.
“These guys have come a long way. They have been sacrificing their bodies and blocking shots, being smart with the puck and positionally playing well,” Werner said. “They have taken a big step forward. They are willing to do whatever needed for the team.”
Goaltenders Gage Handwork and Greg Irons have split time between the pipes.
“They have stood tall for us. They are making a lot of big saves at big times in games. We trust both of the goalies,” Werner said. “That has really put is in good position to start the second half of the season. I look forward to seeing what they do the rest of the season .We feel confident with either one of them back there.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.