Shady Side Academy hockey team draws players from all over for prep school schedule

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Saturday, January 22, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Ice hockey at Shady Side Academy is much different than what most scholastic sports fans are accustomed to.

The school plays in the International Prep League, as opposed to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League most Western Pennsylvania schools play in.

It’s a unique arrangement, but one that suits Shady Side just fine.

Jonathan Johnson, also the school’s assistant athletic director, coaches the boys prep team, a group of anywhere from 20 to 28 athletes that plays a prep school schedule.

“We’ll be in Chicago next weekend playing four other prep schools,” Johnson said. “Besides Chicago, we’ll play teams from Cleveland and Vermont.”

The Bulldogs have players from not only the Pittsburgh region, but athletes from Texas, Florida and even four Canadians.

“We also have a Chinese player,” Johnson said. “We attract top student-athletes. What attracts them is the strong academics here at Shady Side Academy and we can board the students on campus. There are male and female dorms. Development is a key here. We’re at it six days a week.”

A varsity team is one that plays a little more of a local schedule. There is also a middle school team and a girls prep team. One advantage Shady Side also has is an on-campus arena — the McKnight Center.

Said Johnson: “Sometimes, a PIHL game will be played at 9 p.m. on a weeknight. That’s hard for us to have, so we went with this model, and that’s not to take away anything that the PIHL does.”

The Bulldogs are 16-13 after 29 games of the nearly 40-game schedule.

One of the prep team’s key players and captains this season is defenseman Cole Douglas, who hails from Gibsonia.

“Cole’s been here at Shady Side starting with the middle school team,” Johnson said. “He’s definitely a leader of our team.”

Another key player is forward Mathew McEnroe from Moon Township.

One player from Canada who has a familiar name to sports fans in the Pittsburgh region is Jack Lambert. Johnson said when Lambert first arrived on campus, he had no idea who the hall of fame football player of the same name was.

Johnson also gives credit for the program’s success to assistant coach Stu Smith, who has been with the team for about 10 years.

Johnson himself was an incredibly talented player in his day. Johnson scored 122 goals for the Ford City High School hockey team in the 1989-90 season, a state record that still stands. He was featured that year in Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Faces in the Crowd” section.

Johnson went on to play junior hockey several years after graduating from Ford City.

On the weekend of Jan. 28-29, Shady Side will host Wyoming Seminary from the Wilkes-Barre area. The Friday game starts at the McKnight Center starts at 7 .m. and the Saturday game at 11 a.m.

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