Norwin hockey team gets back to work after unforgettable championship season

Saturday, October 8, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Win or lose, stand or fall this hockey season, Norwin will always have 2021.

The Knights’ magical postseason run included their first PIHL championship and saw them skate with the Class A Penguins Cup across the ice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

The Knights advanced to the Pennsylvania Cup final before falling to Flyers Cup champion West Chester to finish 16-5-2 — its best season ever.

The only thing that could rival those moments would be to do it again.

A new season opened earlier this month and Norwin has nine players back from the title-winning team, while nine key seniors graduated and will be hard to replace.

“I do think that like any championship team, there are higher expectations placed on you by everyone, not just inside our own locker room but from our opponents as well,” Norwin coach Mike Robinson said. “Teams you face each and every night are a little more amped to play you than other teams. So we will definitely have a target on our backs all season, and that’s something that our team understands.”

Norwin brings back just two seniors in forwards Sean Hanley and Logan Robb, while a number of talented underclassmen return.

They include juniors Aaron Varrati (defenseman), Alex Thomas (forward), Dominik Costantino (D), Mario Cavallaro (F) and Owen Burmeister (goaltender) and sophomores Cade Zeravica (F), Dom Cerilli (F) and Joey Vecchio (F).

“We are not going to be the same team we were, but we still have a lot of talent in our dressing room,” Robinson said. “And if we can begin coming together as a team now, begin working on the weaknesses inside our game, start playing the style of game we want to play and just worry about each game as it comes, we’re going to be a tough team to play against again this year.”

Robinson said the Penguins Cup win will “stick with me for the rest of my life.” But he mentioned the win that got the team to believe it could be elite as a key highlight.

“The first win against Fox Chapel in the regular season was a huge moment for our team,” he said. “Being down 5-3 with less than 2:30 left in the third period to the heavy favorite of the season on their senior night, and on the PK. We end up scoring two short-handed goals to send it to overtime. It showed a lot of character on our bench to not roll over and give up. To then win it just 10 seconds into OT was pretty crazy. I remember being so amped up after that game that I didn’t get to bed until nearly 2 in the morning from the adrenaline.

“I think from that game there, we knew that we could go all the way.”

Robinson thinks the Knights will continue to cycle the puck down low and produce offensively.

“We return a lot of talented players who can put the puck in the net,” he said.

Among them is Thomas, who had 21 goals and 14 points for a team-high 35 points. Thomas, though, will miss four to six weeks with a broken clavicle.

Cavallaro had 19 goals and 18 assists, and Cerilli eight goals and seven helpers.

Burmeister showed little fear on a big stage in the playoffs. He was 14-5 with a 3.89 goals-against average.

Costantino will be very valuable on the back end for the Knights and instantly makes the power play better.

“We started off in preseason a little worse than we expected, but the fixes we need are easy to fix,” Costantino said. “As a younger team this year, we will develop and get better throughout the year, working towards our goal, which is another Pens Cup title.”

Constantino said younger players are starting to settle in to the team system.

“When we start scoring, everybody will feed off that energy,” he said.

Thomas and Cavallaro each scored two goals in a semifinal win over Fox Chapel and in the PIHL final against McDowell, Robinson’s alma mater.

“To keep us going strong, we need to have our guys as a whole step up in the leadership department,” Robinson said. “Things are always easy when you’re winning, but when things aren’t going your way is when the true work and leadership is crucial. We need to make sure we’re staying humble throughout the season and not get ahead of ourselves. It is a long season and a few mistakes here and there can cost us.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .


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