With speedy senior providing spark, Fox Chapel hockey scorching PIHL opponents

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Saturday, January 28, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Good luck trying to intimidate Fox Chapel senior forward Sam Smith off the puck.

Playing varsity hockey as a sophomore hardened Smith to the challenges of life in the PIHL. Two years ago, Smith was trying to stop players that were much more physically mature than him.

Smith, who is now 5-foot-9, was 4-11 as a sophomore.

“I was trying to block slap shots from seniors going into the military,” Smith said. “It was scary.”

But Smith, who grew 9 inches in height between his freshman and sophomore year, persevered and is part of a juggernaut that leads the Varsity Blue Division with a 15-1 record. Smith has 10 points on the season, including five goals and five assists.

“I’m not as physical as some of the big guys are,” Smith said. “I haven’t had as much time to experience it and grow with it. Being smaller and playing smaller made me tougher as a player, and I am a physical player, just in different ways. I’ve worked on my skating ability, and I’m a lot faster.”

The Foxes have benefitted from having a number of strong players on a roster that features five seniors. Fox Chapel has outscored its opponents 119-32 and earned a lot of representation at the PIHL All-Star game.

Fox Chapel forwards Daniel Downey, Mason Heininger, Dom Caile and Liam Wiseman were selected. In addition, defensemen Trip Goehring and Tyler Goldstein and goaltender Joe Rattner were picked.

Heininger is second in the PIHL Class A with 46 points, including 24 goals and 22 assists. Downey has 22 goals and 23 assists and has 45 points.

Downey, also a senior, thought playing varsity as an underclassman was beneficial.

“It helped a lot,” Downey said. “I played with my brother and other seniors. They helped me with my IQ and working hard.”

Foxes coach Cam Raidna says he is confident of rolling four lines with Fox Chapel.

“We are 100% capable of scoring a goal,” Raidna said. “Each line brings something different. They have a different skill set. We have some lines where their physicality leads to points. We are able to give different looks, and it leads to the same outcome, which is awesome.”

Fox Chapel is also strong defensively. The Foxes are second in Class A, allowing 2.0 goals per game. Only Greensburg Salem, which has played one fewer game, has a lower average.

Smith, who built his reputation as an undersized sophomore, knows the Foxes have the ability to go deep into the postseason.

“I think we have a strong foundation on our team,” Smith said. “All of our systems are pretty much fundamental hockey plays, at least to me at this point. All our plays are so simple, and we build off them.”

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