Senior captain leads way as Bethel Park hockey looks to make playoff push in season’s 2nd half

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Saturday, January 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM


It was a month to remember for Bethel Park hockey player Christian Strang.

Strang was named Class 3A Player of the Month in November by the PIHL as the senior left winger scored twice for the Black Hawks.

“I am honored to have been named 3A player of the month,” Strang said. “Winning this has been a goal for me this season. I’m very grateful for my coaches and teammates who helped me win the award.

“I was surprised when I first learned I won the award because there are a lot of very talented players in this league. It was a great honor, but our team has bigger goals that we need to reach moving forward.”

The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Strang is a hockey lifer.

“I started playing when I was 6,” he said. “My dad played hockey his whole life, so when I was young, Penguin games were always on TV. My dad has been my biggest influence in hockey. He has constantly supported me and pushed me to be a better player.”

Speaking of “better players,” Strang discussed some of his thoughts about playing hockey.

“I think the greatest assets of being a hockey player would be quick decision-making and having ‘hockey smarts,’” he said. “Hockey is a very fast sport that requires making split-second decisions and elite players have great reaction time and decision making.

“Along with that, having hockey smarts, for lack of a better term, helps players read plays and better anticipate where the puck will go. In hockey, cerebral players don’t follow the puck. They know where the puck is going to go.”

Bethel Park compiled a 1-4 record in five games in November with its lone win coming against Canon-McMillan, 6-5, at Spencer Family YMCA, the Black Hawks’ home ice.

Strang, the team captain, battled the flu earlier in the season but still claimed top honors in Class 3A after netting an unassisted goal Nov. 3 against Pine-Richland and a power-play tally a week later against Canon-McMillan.

Senior forwards Colin Nebel and Aaron All assisted on the power-play effort.

The PIHL lauded Strang on its website with the following: “His leadership was on full display as the Hawks battled through a difficult month of injury and sickness. Christian kept a positive approach.”

Bethel Park had two players, Matt Lucido and Jacob Lang, cited as players of the month last season.

Strang teams with Ali, a senior center and alternate captain, and Nebel, a senior right winger, on Bethel Park’s top offensive line.

“Christian is hard working, strong on the puck and has a great compete level,” Bethel Park coach Mike Schall said.

The Black Hawks rallied in the third period to defeat the Big Macs on Nov. 10 as junior forwards Douglas Hartman and Mason Devett-Raeder peppered in a goal apiece for the home team.

Hartman was assisted by William Alborg and Devett-Raeder, who knocked in the game-winning goal on a power play with 9:14 to go on an assist by Ethan Cooley. Alborg and Cooley are junior forwards.

Bethel Park ended the first half of the season with a disappointing 4-7-1 record in the Class 3A division after advancing to the PIHL playoffs the past three years. Actually, the Black Hawks have had a long-standing invitation to the postseason.

“We are trying to make a push in the second half of the season to make the playoffs,” said Schall, who is in his third year as head coach.

The Black Hawks blanked Mt. Lebanon, 2-0, on Dec. 22 to avenge a 3-0 loss on Nov. 7. Senior goaltender Janson Sauer stopped 26 shots in registering his first shutout of the season.

Alborg scored both goals for the Black Hawks on Hartman and Cooley assists.

Hartman (6 goals-3 assists-9 points) and Alborg (3-6-9) were tied for the team lead scoring at the holiday break, followed closely by Strang (5-3), Cooley (4-4), Ali (1-7), senior Luke Henderson (1-6) and Nebel (5-1).

“I think everyone on our team will admit that we have greatly underachieved to this point,” Strang said. “Obviously, the goal this year is to make the playoffs. I think we have a lot of great players on our team, but we just haven’t reached our full potential. Moving forward, we just have to keep working every day at practice and start buying into the messages that our coach is telling us.

“The team as a whole has been pretty banged up through the first half of the season. We were all hit with a flu bug at once that knocked a bunch of players out. Multiple players have missed games with various injuries. If I’m not mistaken, I believe we have played only one or two games with a fully healthy roster.”

Strang, who enjoys hunting, fishing, bike riding and hiking, has a 4.048 GPA. He has applied to multiple colleges and is waiting for potential acceptance letters. He plans to study engineering.

“Right now, I’m still trying to figure out what my future plans will be,” he said. “I have applied to various colleges and I’m trying to determine what school is right for me.”

Two of the leading defensive players for the Black Hawks are Henderson, an alternate captain, and Sauer.

Sauer posted a 4-6-1 record in the first half of the season, allowing 43 goals while stopping 242 of 285 shots. He had a 3.97 goals-against average and .849 save percentage.

In Class 2A, Hempfield’s Nick Bruno was lauded as the PIHL’s Player of the Month in November. The senior forward had 12 goals and nine assists in five games as the Spartans went 3-2. Bruno led the Spartans with 20 goals and 22 assists for a league-high 40 points.

Dylan Bourque of North Catholic was the Class A Player of the Month selection in November. A junior goalkeeper and the son of former Pittsburgh Penguins winger Phil Bourque, he went 2-0 with 55 saves, recording shutouts against Avonworth and West Allegheny. His 1.60 GAA ranked among the goaltending leaders in Class A.

Division 2 Player of the Month plaudits for November went to Bishop Canevin’s Ryan Saginaw, a junior forward who returned from an injury to score 27 goals and distribute 15 assists in games played through Dec. 22. His 42 points ranked second in Division 2 scoring. The Crusaders skated to a 5-0 record in November and were 12-0 at the holiday break.

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