Shaler hockey team overcomes slow start to get back in playoff race

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Sunday, February 20, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Shaler’s push for the hockey playoffs was one that seemed distant at the start of the year.

The Titans lost seven of their first nine games, including four losses by four goals or more. But Shaler shook that off and found its footing, running off five consecutive wins to get back into contention.

“Our coach was really strict,” said Titans forward Mason Miller, who leads the team with 24 points, including nine goals and 15 assists. “He let us know that no teams would have any respect for us now (after the slow start). We would have to earn everything. Nothing was going to be given to us. We had to trust the process.”

The turnaround was so stark, the Titans climbed up the standings and had a chance to move ahead of Latrobe for the final playoff spot Feb. 10 at the Alpha Ice Complex before dropping a 4-2 decision.

Shaler coach Cory Sakolsky said in an interview conducted prior to the Latrobe game he was pleased with the Titans’ resolve.

“We battled a lot of challenges with covid. We were dealing with guys in and out of the lineup,” Sakolsky said. “We hit a point where you have to be really sick of losing or really love winning. You have to make a choice with what you want to do. Some attitude changes occurred and leaders stepped up.”

After the loss to Latrobe, Shaler (7-9) had three games to try to make up the two-point deficit in the division. The Titans were scheduled to close the season with road games at Indiana and Penn-Trafford before a home matchup with Franklin Regional on Feb. 24.

Getting back into the race required the Titans to be more disciplined. Shaler had fallen behind several times due to issues with taking penalties.

“A lot of our penalties are stick infractions and reaching,” Miller said. “We can’t be lazy and we have to keep our feet moving. As long as we are working hard and not reaching, we’ll be OK. On the penalty kill, we’ll have to block more shots.”

In addition to Miller, Logan Thom (eight goals), Dalton Frankert (eight), John Fitzgerald (seven), Ryan Riffner (six) and Luca Wallander (five) established themselves as capable of scoring goals.

But where the Titans found stability was the emergence of Shane Ciganik in net. Shaler had rotated goalies early in the season before Ciganik emerged. He has a 6-3 record in net with an .884 save percentage and 3.39 goals against average.

“Last year Shane was in the low .800s, and he’s raised that way up,” Sakolsky said. “He has benefitted from working with a dedicated goalie coach.”

Sakolsky has Ciganik working with Logan Rothbauer, who played for Sakolsky when he was an assistant coach at Butler.

“He’s helped me work on tracking the puck all the way in,” Ciganik said. “He’s really helped me take the time to get better.”

The Titans have a balanced team that will have one more challenge to try and battle through.

“We don’t have anyone who is a standout superstar,” Miller said. “We want to run our system and do the same things. Everyone has to buy in. It’s not the fanciest, but it gets the job done.”

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