North Hills hockey looking to build toward Penguins Cup championship

Saturday, January 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM

North Hills began the 2022-23 PIHL hockey season with a trio of overtime games.

The Indians won the first two, then suffered a disappointing setback in a 5-4 loss to Avonworth on Oct. 24.

But since then, no one in Class A has been better than North Hills, which has ripped off 12 consecutive wins and, through the middle of January, was the classification’s only team without a regulation loss. But the Indians aren’t resting on their laurels.

“Something we’re still searching for — and we’re getting there — is for that complete game, 51 total minutes,” said coach Jeremy Swegman. “I don’t know that we’ve had that yet.”

That said, Swegman views the loss to the Antelopes as a growing moment for his group. And his message to his team afterwards was fairly blunt.

“We walked out of there saying to the team, ‘We want a chance to play them again, because I don’t think we had our best game, and you guys have to understand that, to do what we want to do, you’ve got to play a complete game,’” he said. “That was the lesson we learned after that Avonworth game.”

Swegman, who thinks highly of the way Avonworth plays and the strength of the program, was impressed with his team when it did get that second chance at the Antelopes.

North Hills beat Avonworth, 8-6, on Dec. 12, good for a seventh straight win. Following that, Avonworth won five more games in a row, allowing just five goals in that stretch.

“Noise and frustration, it gets to us, and we lose our focus,” Swegman said. “What we were able to do after that second Avonworth game was refocus on what our objectives are, what our goals are as a team, and we made sure that we’re committed to doing that. I think we got back to being able to do that.”

The Indians have outscored opponents 73-34 this season. Leading the way offensively has been senior Alec Feigel with 20 goals and 21 assists, and senior Tony Kiger has scored a team-high 21 goals to go with 18 assists.

Kiger has also, according to Swegman, developed into a player that the rest of the team looks up to, highlighted by a gutsy performance in a 5-2 win at McDowell on January 10.

Kiger played the game with an extremely high fever. He scored a goal and assisted another before having to leave due to illness.

“From a forward standpoint, everything starts with Tony,” Swegman said. “He’s a respected leader. His presence alone in any room gets recognized. You take note, Tony’s here. He’s 100 percent effort.

“Him and Alec have such good chemistry together. They drive us. They’re the force behind us all.”

But their leadership has also led to plenty of emerging depth scoring for the team. Defenseman Owen Sroka has 19 points, Andrew Nazak has 16 points and Nathan Hazen has 10.

“We’ve had some good teams recently but have sort of fought that culture change a bit,” Swegman said. “Hockey is the ultimate team game, and the smallest bit of selfishness can consume a locker room. We just don’t have any of that this year.”

While the offense has been dangerous for North Hills, the defense and goaltending have been beyond respectable with goalie Cole Wanner posting a 2.09 goals-against average.

Now, as the season progresses into its final months, the Indians are going to be one of the hunted teams for the duration of the season. Swegman understands that, and he wants his team to as well.

“They are kids, and their focus can wander at times,” he said. “But what we just try to reinforce is that we haven’t accomplished anything yet. … Our goal is to win a Penguins Cup.”


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