Plum hockey rebounds from tough start, looks ahead to promising season

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Sunday, October 23, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Plum ice hockey coach Phil Mains knew his team was better than what it showed in an 11-0 season-opening loss to defending PIHL Class A champion Norwin on Oct. 10.

Given an opportunity at redemption, the Mustangs took full advantage a week later and got into the win column with a 5-3 victory against Fox Chapel at the Alpha Ice Complex in Harmarville.

“It was a tough start to the season, but we knew that coming in,” Mains said.

“It was really nice to see them come out and play hard against Fox Chapel. This team continues to evolve and take shape. Having that first period end scoreless was huge for us. Then you’re always just a shot away if you are able to keep it close. That game was a huge confidence builder for us moving forward.”

The Mustangs hoped to add to their positive result against Fox Chapel and make some noise in PIHL Class A.

Plum doesn’t have to wait long to rematch with Norwin as the Mustangs and Knights will do battle Tuesday (Nov. 1) at Palmer Imaging Arena in Delmont.

“Hopefully, we can put up a better performance against them this time,” Mains said. “I know the guys are anxious for that opportunity.”

Mains said an efficient practice a couple of days after the Norwin loss and then another practice and film session the day before the game with the Foxes helped the team refocus and prepare to get the victory.

“We watched some of our game with Norwin and also some film of Fox Chapel’s game with Hampton,” Mains said.

“We realized we made some mistakes in that first game and that our effort and positioning weren’t where they should’ve been. We talked about doing some of the little things better to give us a good shot against Fox Chapel. Sometimes you work on things well enough, and then other things pop up where it doesn’t always come together, but against Fox Chapel, our leaders and more experienced players brought the team together and showed how we could control our effort and attitude towards getting a win. It certainly went a long way for us.”

Senior captain Zach Miller came up big against Fox Chapel with a natural hat trick in the second period before adding a power-play goal in the third.

“Zach is a kind of player where once he sees one go in, he kind of sees red, and he is likely to get multiple goals,” Mains said.

“He missed pretty much the whole year last year with a back injury that he was able to get right. He’s a perfect leader for us and a hard worker. He’s strong, fast, and has a great shot. I think he kind of has a chip on his shoulder coming back. He’s excited, and he brings that energy to the team.”

Also tasked with bringing the energy, effort and expectation, Mains said, are assistant captains in seniors Thomas Fedel on defense and David Westbrook at forward.

“Both have been playing varsity since they were freshmen, and they bring that veteran experience,” Mains said.

Junior defenseman Mason Wilkes is another assistant captain and key core player ready to help fuel the team. He is back after missing almost all of last year with a broken wrist.

“We have a pretty good group of leaders and role models for the younger guys,” Mains said.

“They are all serious about taking care of themselves and getting stronger.”

Sophomore forward Tyler Bresso also scored for Plum against Fox Chapel, while junior forward Travis Marks (2), sophomore forward Nick Majors, junior forward Adam Varner, and sophomore forward Brody Howell added assists.

Senior goaltender Kaleb McCabe earned the win between the pipes.

Mains said the on-ice work in the preseason, including tournament games against different levels of competition in Ringgold, Greensburg Salem and Penn-Trafford, helped the team get up to speed.

“I love playing in preseason tournaments,” Mains said. “We’ve done the one in Greensburg for several years, and those games really help us find out what we have. We lost some players who we thought we would have, so we were moving guys back on defense and trying to find out what lines worked. Every game, we had guys playing different positions. We got to see all three of our goalies play. Just getting things on tape is how you can make the most drastic improvements.”

Mains said the work to improve continues through each practice and game.

“As a younger team — we only have four seniors — the attention to detail is important as we build toward what this team can become,” Mains said.

“We’re missing a few guys, and things can change week to week, but our goal is to expect to win every game. We want Plum hockey to be tough to play against, no matter who it is against or where we are playing. We’re going to have close games and not-so-close games that go both ways. Hopefully, we can find that consistency where people know what they are going to get out of us.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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