No quit in Hampton hockey team

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Thursday, February 6, 2020 | 7:23 PM


As the regular season began to wind down, the Hampton hockey team wasn’t eliminated from playoff contention, and no matter the results, the team will always play like it.

“Mathematically, I’ve calculated the percentage (of playoff chances),” coach Luke Leya said. “It’s one-hundredth of a chance. But that’s better than zero, and I’ve got the kids bought in. We’re playing to play. We’ve been in every game this year.”

Leya’s mentality clearly trickles down to his team, which has been struggling in the win column (3-12-0), but is playing like a record doesn’t exist. Graduation was not kind to Hampton last season. It lost its top three scorers, all of which were All-Star-caliber players.

“We’re fighting, and we’re hungry,” he said. “We’ve got a good team coming back next year, but we’re trying to put our best foot forward with this group. The kids are still engaged, and that’s something I’m happy about.”

The Talbots showed just how hungry they still are Jan. 20 at Frozen Pond Arena against undefeated Latrobe. Down 1-0 with four minutes to play, sophomore Adam Dembowski scored the tying goal. Junior Ethan Varley iced the game with a goal in overtime in one of the the bigger upsets in the PIHL this year.

“Just a complete effort by everybody,” Leya said. “They just fought. They didn’t care where they were in the standings. I’m proud of the kids. It’s something they’ll always remember.”

The story of the game was senior goalie Jake McGee, who stopped 50 of 51 shots in a show-stopping performance. The Talbots were outshot 51-13.

“In big games, the kid shows up,” said Leya. “In a game like that, when our playoff chances are sub-10%, he could step out and focus on having a fun senior year or he can step up.

“He literally willed us to a win. His will to win is absolutely present, regardless of where we are in the standings.”

The victory marks the second consecutive year Hampton proved to be a giant slayer. Last year, it handed undefeated Penguin Cup and state champion Pine-Richland its only loss in similar fashion with a dramatic overtime win.

“That team last year and this team, there’s probably seven or eight guys that, they have a will that reminds me of junior hockey, which is totally absent in most high school teams I’ve coached in my limited career,” said Leya, who is in his second season behind Hampton’s bench.

Hampton will look to turn the corner with a more experienced squad next year.

It will lose McGee, the team’s only four-year letterwinner. But sophomore goalie Brendan Frankel has made strides in the six games he has played.

“It’s going to be his ship to command next year,” said Leya, who commended his backup for a strong performance in a 5-3 loss to playoff-bound West Allegheny. “He’s going to have a lot to look forward to. Jake’s helped him out tremendously.”

Leya thinks Dembowski hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling and will continue to be a point-per-game player. Joey Pankowski, who led the team in points with 19 in 15 games, was the only freshman All-Star in Class AA.

“He just continues to find the back of the net,” said Leya. “Breakaways, garbage goals, two-on-ones.”

Versatile sophomore defenseman Owen Cirlingione (six points) also had a strong first year as a regular starter. Additionally, underclassmen Mitch Hurst (15 points) and Logan Scanlon (14 points) both produced at a point-per-game pace this season.

“It’s good that those guys have made some noise,” Leya said. “We’ve got a lot to build off of. It just feeds back into what we’ve got in the pipeline for next year. We’ve got a really solid core returning and for us to have three games left and still a chance at playoffs, it speaks to this group.”

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