New coach plans to carry on ‘winning mentality’ with Franklin Regional hockey

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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Brian Bearley understands the assignment.

A former assistant coach for Franklin Regional hockey under former head coach John Winebrenner, Bearley recently was hired to lead the Panthers.

Familiarity with various levels of hockey at Franklin Regional should serve him well. His plan is to maintain a standard already in place while adding his own touch.

Winebrenner was not retained after five successful seasons, causing some turbulence in and around the program.

“John had this program knocking at the Penguin Cup door for these past few years,” Bearley said. “So I am determined to keep the expectation of getting back there alive and in the front of the players’ minds every time we step onto the ice.

“With being one of the assistant coaches for the past two seasons, I have a sense of loyalty to the players, especially the players that will be seniors next season.”

Franklin Regional will have 11 returning seniors from a team that went 11-8-0-1 and reached the PIHL Class 2A semifinals.

“Franklin has been in the playoffs for the last four years, so I’m not going to use the word ‘change,’” Bearley said. “I am going to do my best to carry on that winning mentality that has been a part of the F-R hockey history.”

The team made the Penguins Cup semis three times and the finals twice under Winebrenner.

Bearley has great respect for his predecessor but wants the team to move forward.

“I’m focused on getting our team ready for the coming season,” he said. “Looking back will be a distraction that we do not need.”

Bearley began coaching at Franklin Regional in 2008 in the Little Panthers Devo program.

“During that year, I also started coaching Mites with the Allegheny Badgers in Delmont,” he said. “I’ve coached every level, Mites thru Midgets, since then. In parallel, as my two boys grew, I coached at the middle school, JV and varsity levels at Franklin Regional.”

Bearley was the JV head coach during the Panthers’ Penguins Cup finals runs and became a varsity assistant until 2019.

His son, Damian, was killed in a car crash in 2021, sending shockwaves through his family. Damian, who was 18, played in the Franklin Regional Hockey Club and for the Allegheny Badgers until 10th grade.

Brian Bearley accepted Winebrenner’s invitation to rejoin the staff soon after the tragedy.

“The past couple of years have been the hardest of my life, not just for me, but my family as well,” he said. “Damian’s friends have been a huge emotional support group for my wife, myself, and especially my other three children. (Damian) had a very tight friend group that still will come over to our house and hang out with my family. Most of them played ice hockey with him at F-R and the Allegheny Badgers.”

The Franklin Regional Hockey Club honors Damian’s memory with an annual preseason tournament in his name for middle school and JV teams.

There also is an award in his namesake that goes to a JV player.

“These are probably the main reasons why I applied for the coaching position,” Bearley said. “We see the hockey club as our extended family, so I wanted to give back what I can to them.”

Bearley is a 1991 graduate of Woodland Hills. He played dek hockey for several years in Penn Hills.

He believes Franklin Regional could be strong again next winter.

“We have a very fast team, but I want to add a level of grit that has been missing recently,” he said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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