Return of key players helps prime Pine-Richland hockey for playoffs

Sunday, February 11, 2018 | 11:40 PM

Few teams in the PIHL are as hot as the Pine-Richland hockey team. The Rams have won four of their past five games to vault themselves from fourth place to second place in the Class AA North/West division.

During the streak, the Rams (9-5-2) earned three of their last four wins in comeback fashion. The team's resilience has not gone unnoticed by coach Jim Black, who said his players' ability to remain calm while trailing is one of their strongest traits and one that will come in handy in the playoffs.

“Obviously, I think we've played much better in the second half of the season than we did in the first half,” Black said. “At this point, I think the kids are pretty comfortable with what the systems are.

“I'd rather play with a lead than have to come from behind all the time, but I think the good thing with the playoffs coming up for us is that if they get behind, they still have the confidence that they can come back. They're never out of a game, and that means they're calm. That attitude lends itself to the upperclassmen and how they trust their abilities.”

One of those upperclassmen, senior captain Antonio Binotto, has helped give his team a scoring boost. After returning from an injury, he scored six goals in the team's last five games.

“He was out a good portion of the year, but he's come back and played well,” Black said. “He can put the puck in the net, and he's definitely had a good stretch here. He's had some really pretty goals. He's really picked it up toward the end of the season, which is good to see.”

Defenseman Jack Tyndall, who missed most of the year with a broken collarbone, also worked himself back into the lineup. In addition to his strong presence on defense, Tyndall has scored twice in the team's last five games and, Black said, has provided a lift to the power play.

With Tyndall and Binotto back in the lineup, Black is confident the team has the necessary talent to achieve its goals. Now, with two games left in the regular season, it's a matter of want-to.

“We definitely have the pieces,” Black said. “We can put together a pretty good run here for the playoffs. It's just a matter of the work ethic being there for three periods, and it's got to be there for every shift.

“Something like that is in the control of the players, so it's literally on their backs now. It's up to them.”

Pine-Richland will host Hempfield at 9 p.m. Thursday.

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.


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