Pine-Richland hockey team riding prolific offense

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Saturday, February 27, 2021 | 9:01 AM


With the volatility that comes with playing during a pandemic, Pine-Richland hockey coach Jordan Yoklic told his players to embrace each opportunity and not take it for granted.

After all, the Rams were gearing up for a Class AAA semifinal with North Allegheny last year when the pandemic first hit the United States and ended the season.

With the take-it-day-by-day approach, the Rams have won games and find themselves as contenders once again.

“I want them to come to the rink with a smile on their face and ready to take advantage of the opportunity at hand,” Yoklic said. “Last year was a good example where nothing is given to you. We were in position to play in a semifinal, and all of the sudden that was taken away from four AAA teams. There are no guarantees with this virus. You never know from one day to another if you’re going to be playing hockey, so if they embrace it and come in and be a hard-working group. That’s all we can ask of them.”

The Rams (9-4) were tied for third in the standings with Peters Township and had a five-game winning streak from Jan. 21 through Feb. 11 before losing two games last week. They were behind Canon-McMillan and North Allegheny in the standings. During the five-game winning streak they earned two wins over Mt. Lebanon and one apiece over Cathedral Prep, Butler and Upper St. Clair. They lost 5-4 to Peters Township and 4-1 to Central Catholic on Monday and Tuesday.

“We’re on track,” Yoklic said. “As a team we realize we want to get better every opportunity we have, whether it’s in practice or a game. During a season there are always ups and downs and you learn as a season rolls along. You always take the highs, and if you are faced with some lows you have to learn from them and grow from them to assure it’s not a bad habit moving forward. As a whole the team is getting better, and we’re happy to be playing. We’re looking forward to the back half of the season and the playoffs.”

Part of what has made the Rams so successful has been their ability to score in droves. They had 75 goals through Wednesday, which was 21 more than anyone else in Class AAA.

Eight Rams have 10 or more points led by Alex Erlain (21) and Charlie Mill (18). Erlain had a dozen goals, and Mill had 11 through Wednesday.

The depth in the forward group allows Yoklic to spread out ice time in lieu of relying on one or two lines to carry minutes.

“We’re at our best when we’re rolling all four of our lines up front,” Yoklic said. “If we’re working hard and clicking on all cylinders we feel we’re a difficult opponent to face. We obviously have to be on our game, because the teams in Class AAA that aren’t going to just give it to us. We have to make sure we’re working hard for it and earning every inch of the ice.”

Mill and Dominic Desjardins are two players remaining from the Rams team that won the Class AA Penguins Cup and state championship two years ago. Desjardins had six goals and 15 points through Wednesday. Not only do Mill and Desjardins factor on the score sheet most nights, they provide a steady hand of experience for a team that has championship aspirations once again.

“Seeing a guy like Mill or Desjardins that has reached the top just makes those other guys that much hungrier to earn it themselves,” Yoklic said. “Both of them are comfortable in a leadership position. Outside of those two we have a large group of seniors that have that state championship goal in mind.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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