Thomas Jefferson hockey in hunt for division title
By: Ray Fisher
Saturday, December 29, 2018 | 10:54 PM
Thomas Jefferson ended the first half of the PIHL season in a three-way battle for first place in the Class A South Division.
South Fayette (10-1), TJ (8-2) and South Park (8-2) are the top contenders in the section, followed by Chartiers Valley, Wheeling Catholic and Wheeling Park.
“So far, this season has gone well,” TJ coach Bill Crousey said. “I’m looking for a little more consistency. We have gotten away from how we want to play at times.
“Hopefully, we can fix that and play the same way versus whoever we play.”
Senior forward Hayden Hintermeyer exploded out of the starting block this season, being named PIHL Class A player of the month in November.
Hintermeyer, a PIHL all-star in 2017-18, leads TJ offensively with 14 goals and 12 assists, good for 26 points.
“In the recent years, we have been able to have solid regular seasons, but we have not been able to succeed in playoffs. I hope we can change that this year,” Hintemeyer said. ”I believe the goal for our team going into the last month of the regular season is to have a positive attitude and to finish off strong.
“We need as much confidence as we can get going into playoffs, especially for the freshmen who have never experienced it first-hand yet. We need to take every game one at a time. We cannot be looking ahead to games when we have one right in front of us. The league this year is highly competitive. Any game can drastically effect your playoff seed.”
Hintemeyer is complemented by senior Johnny Rimski (19 points), sophomores Eddie Pazo (18), senior John Piscitelli (13), and sophomores Riley Holzer (12) and Will O’Brien (12) at the forward position.
Other leading players on the offensive end include senior Joey Oliver, plus sophomores Hunter Fairman and Luke Rayman. Oliver, Pazo and Piscitelli ranked second in goals-scored with seven apiece. Rimsky led the team in assists with 13.
“My biggest concern this season was replacing our leadership we lost to graduation.” Crousey said. “However, this year’s seniors have stepped up and are doing a great job. With their hard work and the emergence of some of our younger players, the team should do well.”
Offensive firepower has been provided by the Jaguars’ top three lines, consisting of: 1) Pazo, Hintemeyer, Rimsky; 2) Oliver, O’Brien, Piscitelli; 3) Fairman, Holzer, Rayman.
Junior Mason McGuirk and freshman Nicholas Stock have stepped in where needed.
“We have a very explosive offense that can put up numbers almost every game,” Hintemeyer said. “We have three solid lines that should be able to play at any point during the game when needed.
“The offense can move the puck quickly and create (space) with our speed. It is difficult for opposing teams to contain our offense when everyone has their feet moving 100 percent of the game.”
Coach Crousey has been impressed by his team’s offensive firepower. The Jaguars netted 63 goals in their first 10 games.
“It’s a strong forward group that competes for ice time,” Crousey said. “They are constantly pushing each other in practice and games.”
TJ has allowed 27 goals, rotating a group of seven players led by junior E.J. Burnstein and sophomore Brady Rotollo, on defense. Others in the mix include junior Brandon Kibe, junior Jake Schmidt, senior Paul Chonko, freshman Brett Smith and sophomore Jake Gardiner.
“At times, they have played well,” Crousey said. “However, I’m looking for five to step up and secure a permanent rotation. This has to happen for us to be the best possible team we can be. Burnstein (who is out of the lineup with broken wrist) and Rotollo have been playing the best so far.”
Sophomore goaltender Luke Ripepi has a 2.69 goals-against average and .893 save percentage with one shutout. Ripepi is a second-year starter in the net. Last season, he registered a 16-3 record with one shutout, a 2.63 GAA and .874 save percentage.
“Luke is our only goalie,” Crousey said. “He has good stats and has played great at times. Just like our team, he needs to continue to work on his consistency.”
TJ, which enjoyed a banner 17-4 season in 2017-18, is the highest-scoring team in the division with a 63-27 advantage in the scoring department. The Jaguars hit double figures twice, against Wheeling Catholic and Greensburg Salem.
The team’s two losses were to South Fayette, 2-0, and Bishop McCort, 7-3.
“We have had a strong season so far, but we need to really dig down deep against the better teams in our league,” Hintemeyer said. “We have had great success against teams in the middle of the standings, yet we have not been able to beat any top-standing teams yet. I believe we have the capability to do that if we bear down and use what has been working for us in the past.”
The Jaguars will be idle from PIHL action until Jan. 7 when they take on Norwin at Center Ice Arena.
“The team has everything it needs to have a strong regular season,” Crousey said. “However, if we want to make some noise in March, we need to fix the ‘little things’ that win you games versus good opponents.”
Piscitelli is serving as team captain this year; Oliver and Burnstein are assistant captains.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.
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