Strong defensive duo leading way for North Hills hockey

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Saturday, November 19, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Cole Wanner is an avid golfer who looks for any opportunity he can to hit the links. But right now, he’s hoping that may not be for a while.

Wanner, the goalie for the North Hills hockey team, is off to an impressive start in the 2022-23 season.

Through their first six games, the Indians went 5-0-1 with their only loss coming to a strong Avonworth team in overtime.

“I’m pretty happy with where we’re at,” said Wanner, who is among the Class A leaders in goals-against average and save percentage. “Being at the top of the standings is always nice.”

The senior has been the final line of defense for a group that has been stingy defensively, particularly in a 2-1 win Nov. 7 over defending Class A runner-up McDowell.

“That was a pretty special one,” said Wanner. “That was a really difficult opponent. But it wasn’t only me doing well. The defense helped me out in that game, clearing rebounds, the front of the net, blocking shots. And it wasn’t just getting the win, it was a full team effort in that game.”

One of those players helping out in front of Wanner is fellow senior Owen Sroka, one of the better defenseman in Class A who has earned the admiration of his goalie.

“He has one of the highest hockey IQs I’ve ever seen,” Wanner said of Sroka. “The way he knows the game, and understands it, he’s never in the wrong position. He helps spread that knowledge throughout the lineup. It’s so key and one of his biggest attributes that goes unnoticed.”

“I always try to help out the younger guys coming up and help them settle into varsity play,” Sroka added. “I want to make them better and more comfortable.”

Both players have caught the eye of their coach, Jeremy Swegman.

“These two personify what we want at North Hills,” said Swegman, in his first season leading the team. “(They are) players who respect the organization, are committed to their teammates, who look to improve and then take advantage of their opportunities.”

The starter’s role wasn’t just handed to Wanner. He sat for a couple of years and waited his turn and then split time last year with Tyler Manfred, who graduated.

“It took a little bit to get there, but I think it was a good thing,” Wanner said. “Having to earn my spot made it more valuable for me. And I got to learn from the goalies ahead of me, which I feel helped make my game better. Now, it’s my duty to pass it down and help the younger goalies as well.”

Sroka, meanwhile, has been a big contributor for a couple of years. As a sophomore, he scored five goals and assisted 13 more. Last season, he racked up three goals and 12 assists. Now, through six games, his production is on that track again, with a goal and five helpers.

“I try to help as much as I can from the blue line and jump start the offense as much as possible,” said Sroka, who hopes the passion and energy recognized by his goalie and coach is infectious for his teammates.

“I have a strong urge to win, and I don’t like to lose. I try to use that in a positive way to pick up my teammates if they’re having a bad game. I want to push everyone, on and off the ice.”

Swegman credits the duo’s leadership and commitment to the program as a critical reason why the team has had early success.

Off the ice, the two seniors already have an idea what they want when the school year is over, besides setting tee times. Sroka will attend Penn Tech, where he will pursue a career in building construction, something spurred on by his time in wood shop classes at North Hills.

Wanner, meanwhile, plans to attend college — and hopes to play hockey — while diving into a sports management major and a minor in graphic design and marketing.

But before that happens, the two have big plans for their final high school hockey seasons. And early indications show that it could be a good one.

“The team has really come together this year,” Wanner said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie in the locker room. Everyone is getting along and it’s trending in the right direction.”

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