Latrobe hockey looks to build on last season’s strong finish

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021 | 9:35 AM


Like many PIHL teams a year ago, Latrobe had to navigate the choppy waters of playing a season while covid-19 ran rampant through the area.

But Wildcats coach Josh Werner believes his team was able to learn quite a bit from a season that started rocky but ended on a positive note.

“Last year was tough for everyone, but for us at Latrobe, the first half of the season, we were just trying to find our identity and what kind of team we wanted to be,” said Werner, who is entering his seventh season.

“We weren’t consistent on how we were playing, and once Christmas break came, we found ourselves in a tough spot. We knew we had to change the way we were playing and find how we wanted to play against other teams. Thankfully, we were able to do that.

Latrobe finished the regular season 11-6-1, finishing on an 8-1 run after losing six of their first nine games. The Wildcats finished a point off of the division title.

And while Werner admits the 4-3 loss to Montour in the Class 2A quarterfinals still stings, he believes his team learned enough late in the year to carry it into this season.

“We look to have a great year and build on that second half and build on our identity of just being a tough team to play against,” he said, “being good defensively and letting that lead into our offense.”

Latrobe played solid defense last season, ending up fifth in Class 2A in goals allowed per game. Back to aid those efforts is goalie Vinny Amatucci.

“When you talk about goalies in hockey, they’re always the oddball of the team. And Vinny’s definitely that,” Werner said. “But he’s a gamer, and he’s used to playing in big games. He’s confident, and when he’s in the net, the team’s confident. We know Vinny’s going to make that big save.”

Offensively, the Wildcats will have to replace Alex Schall, who scored 28 goals last season, the second-best mark in Class 2A.

Junior Peyton Myers, who scored nine goals and added 24 assists in 2020-21, as well as junior JD Robinson (12 goals, nine assists), bring solid skill to the forward position. Jacob Hannah, Reid West and Josh Coffee will play large roles in the attack as well.

“We look to definitely make up those (Schall) goals by committee and everybody pitching in,” Werner said. “We look to be in tight games, one- or two-goal games, and just wait for the other team to make that mistake and capitalize on it.”

Werner, a 2008 Serra Catholic grad, knows the history of the Latrobe program well. The Wildcats won four Penguins Cup titles from 2008-13, and his hope is Latrobe is close to bringing another title back to such a strong hockey community.

“At Latrobe, it’s almost like a priority for the kids to play for their high school,” Werner said. “They take pride in it, and once they hit the ice as a team, there’s a standard.”

Before they can get to the mountaintop, Werner and Latrobe first must conquer a difficult East division in Class 2A, which features last year’s runner-up, Franklin Regional, perennial power Armstrong and reigning Class A champion Indiana, which moved up a classification this year.

“It’s anyone’s division, and it’s been like that since I’ve been coaching in 2A,” Werner added. “These are some good, well-coached teams. They keep adding to 2A, and it’s only making the classification better and raising the bar for whoever is going to win the Penguins Cup.”

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