With experienced lineup, North Hills hockey team sets goals high

Saturday, October 22, 2022 | 11:01 AM

North Hills hockey went through a coaching change this season, but continuity is perhaps the team’s biggest asset.

Jeremy Swegman took over an experienced Indians team that finished 12-8 in 2021-2022 and reached the Penguins Cup Class A quarterfinals following the resignation of Kevin Pawlos.

But Swegman is far from a stranger to the program. He was Pawlos’ assistant the last four seasons.

“I still like being around the game,” said Swegman, who has also been an assistant and head coach at Bishop Canevin previously. “Kevin and I had worked really well together. Our first year here, we had 36 kids total try out. This year we had 96. What we thought we’d be able to build, we’ve built.”

While much will stay the same for North Hills from a personnel standpoint, Swegman does have some tweaks in mind.

“Everything I do is about pushing back and being on our toes,” he said. “So it all starts offensively for us, which is where we aggressively get into the offensive zone and get as many shots to the net as we can.”

Helping ease the transition is a solid returning core. The Indians bring back three of their top four point producers from last year and six players that recorded double-digit points.

“This group, it’s our fourth year with them,” Swegman said. “We’re led by a good group of seniors and captains that have been around. They understand what that expectation is to be a hockey player.”

North Hills will be led primarily by senior Alec Feigel, who scored 21 goals and assisted 16 more. His 37 points were ranked 12th in Class A in the PIHL.

“He’s a smaller guy, but his motor is always going,” Sewgman said. “So you know you’re going to get 100% worth of effort from him each shift. He’s got a little bit of a nasty streak, too, which as a smaller guy, he sometimes needs to have.”

Senior Tony Kiger registered 14 goals and as many assists last year and Andrew Nazak (7 goals, 16 assists) rounds out a strong top line.

“We’re kind of looked at like a one-line team, which might be the case right now,” Sewgman explained. “But we’ve got a good bench of some younger freshmen and some sophomores and juniors that, if they take advantage of the opportunities that they have, can make a difference.

“Our lineup is sprinkled pretty well with some talent and some opportunity with guys up and down it.”

Swegman feels his team is dynamic on the blue line with returners Joey Spivak and Owen Sroka, who each scored in North Hills’ 4-3 overtime win over Quaker Valley to begin the season.

“They’re going to eat minutes back there because they just know how to outwork,” Swegman said. “It’s all about accountability and effort, and they stick to their defensive game and they play hard every game, every shift. We know we can trust them back there.”

North Hills also has comfort in net. Senior Cole Wanner, who led the team with a 2.95 goals-against average and .877 save percentage a year ago, will take on a larger role this season after splitting time as a junior. He’ll be spelled by junior AJ Urbanek.

Last season, North Hills got bounced 5-1 at the hands of Fox Chapel in its first playoff game. The Indians now have designs on going deeper.

But first, they need to find a way into the postseason, which will be a challenge. North Hills will have to battle through a competitive schedule in Class A’s Gold division, which features 11 other teams, many of which have had sustained success in the PIHL over the years.

“We know it’s not going to be easy,” Swegman said. “There’s quite a few good teams in our division, but I think that we’ll be able to compete with them.

“Our expectations are high, so we’re looking forward to a good year.”


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