Undefeated Latrobe hockey team happy with start, hopes to stay sharp

Sunday, December 29, 2019 | 7:03 PM

Latrobe entered the holiday break 11-0 in PIHL Class AA.

But once the Wildcats return to league play Jan. 16, they figure they’re back to 0-0.

“I am happy for the boys. They have been working hard. But we know that record means nothing,” Latrobe coach Josh Werner said. “We just want to make the playoffs. That’s where we want to do our damage. We’re trying to go out and do our best and we’ll see how it goes.”

The team ended first half of the season with a 2-1 win over Armstrong on Dec. 16. It kept the program at the top of the standings with 22 points.

“We’re very happy with that start. I think it finally proves what we are able to do as a team,” Latrobe senior Josh Martino said. “We’re coming together and working hard. We’re putting in max effort.”

The Wildcats are getting maximum results, too, on both ends of the rink. They lead Class AA with 70 goals and have allowed a classification-low 10 goals. They have six shutouts.

“I think it’s great when we can shut teams down,” Martino said. “Even though we only scored two goals in our last game, we were able to shut Armstrong down. I think our defense can give us the hard, gritty wins we need.”

Special teams have been huge, as well. The power play is converting at 40%, and the penalty kill has been nearly perfect, with only one goal against in 38 attempts (97.4%).

“I have to give credit to our team defense for that,” Werner said. “Hats off to our penalty kill. They’ve only given up one goal all season, and it was a six-on-four goal with the goalie pulled. They’ve been doing well. In our 2-1 win over Armstrong, they threw everything at us. We faced a six-on-four power play late, and we were able to kill it off. It was a great effort by the team.”

The monthlong break in their PIHL schedule created quite a void. The Wildcats filled some of the time by participating in a pair of tournaments: the Pa. Hockey Scholastic Showcase last week and a tournament in Youngstown this week.

“The PIHL season is so long. Having a four-week break is ridiculous,” Werner said. “We just want to keep playing and keep rolling. We’ll get to play some different teams and some really, really good teams, and we’ll see how it goes. It doesn’t matter who we play. We just want to play hard and play the right way. Whatever happens, happens. We know, once playoffs hit, then everything matters. We want to keep playing hard and playing the right way.”

The Wildcats, who have seven PIHL games left, look forward to the tournaments.

“I think they will be nice for us. They keep us on the ice and in shape. They keep the train moving even though we still have a break,” Martino said. “Right now, as a team, our biggest goal is to try to finish the regular season undefeated and head into playoffs as the No. 1 seed.”

Latrobe’s last Penguins Cup title came in 2013. The Wildcats have been perennial contenders, though. They reached the semifinals last season but fell to Pine-Richland, 5-2.

“We’ve been there before, and I think that adds to our team a lot. I think that loss to Pine-Richland plays a factor in how we’re playing. We have a chip on our shoulder, and we have something to prove.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.


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