Latrobe hockey team ready to rebound after missing playoffs a year ago

Monday, October 24, 2022 | 12:02 PM

After their first playoff miss in 17 years, the Latrobe IceCats high school hockey team came to camp this season with one thing in mind.

“They were embarrassed not making the playoffs last year,” coach Josh Werner said, smiling.

What else could the veteran coach do, but laugh it off?

“Last year, we did get a little complacent, and that hurt us big time,” he said.

Latrobe was off to a fast start in its bid to return to the postseason, where the IceCats hadn’t missed the field since back-to-back seasons in 2003-04 and ’04-05.

They’ll take a pair of decisive victories into their next game Thursday against Armstrong at Nevin Arena in Greensburg. The Wildcats during the first two weeks drubbed Franklin Regional, 8-2, and followed up with a 5-1 victory over Hempfield.

Werner, who is in his ninth year as coach at Latrobe, welcomed back 14 seniors and a roster that includes just three new players promoted from the JV team, including both goaltenders.

Latrobe finished 9-10-1 in 2021-22, just the team’s first losing season since 2005-06 (the IceCats were 9-9-1 in 2016-17).

“The main thing for us is to get back to playing with the consistency that’s needed to be a successful team,” Werner said. “We put in some good work in the offseason, and it really came into its own in our first game. We look to continue that.”

Latrobe’s lopsided victory in the opener came against a Franklin Regional team that lost to Thomas Jefferson in the 2022 PIHL Class 2A Penguins Cup championship game.

“We have such a big group returning that didn’t make the playoffs last year that, frankly, it’s to our advantage,” Werner said. “We know we can be one of the best teams in Double-A, if not the best.”

Werner pointed to consistency time and again as the motivating factor, he feels, for a successful season.

“It’s the most consistent teams that has the most success,” he said. “It’s proven year after year, and that’s where we want to be.”

Senior forward Peyton Myers was named Latrobe’s captain and acts as a coach-of-sorts for the team, helping to put the staff at ease. Two other senior forwards — JD Robinson and Reid West — have shown Werner superior leadership skills, as well.

“Peyton is a great player on and off the ice. All three are,” Werner said. “But Peyton is a great liaison between the coaches and the players. It’s great to have someone like him to lead the team and lead the seniors to create that good atmosphere between players and coaches.”

Werner said a hallmark of his teams has been just that — a good rapport between the two groups.

“Having players like Payton Myers and JD Robinson and Reid West … those guys create that good atmosphere for the younger guys.”

It is a must, Werner said, if the Wildcats are to get back to their winning ways — “The Latrobe way,” he said with a bit of emphasis.

Having the large group of seniors means a roster full of experience. Werner has liked what he’s seen so far. He wants his players to use their experiences — good and bad — to their benefit.

“Work your butt off, work hard, understand the system and see it succeed,” he said. “Use last year to motivate and learn from mistakes. We’ve been working hard on those things.”

If goaltending was to be a problem with loss of last year’s experienced duo of Vinny Amatucci and Evan Jarvis, then it hadn’t yet shown up. Latrobe outscored its first two opponents by a combined 13-3.

JM Krajc and Connor Keddie have split time, each playing one game and holding the opponents at bay.

They’re joined by defenseman Kaleb Trice as newcomers to the club.

“All three play amateurs,” Werner said.

“We rely on those experiences from past teams. Everyone has played in big games at some level or another. Maybe not here at Latrobe, but with their amateur teams. They’ve all three played on the JV team, and they’ve all three played in close games. We trust our goalies — both of them — and we trust our defense.

“We’re looking for a good start, build on it, create those opportunities in the offensive zone, play a good tight defense and not give up easy opportunities. We want teams to earn those goals. It’s a total team effort. We’ve been preaching it all season, and now, it’ll all play out.”


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