With top line clicking, Pine-Richland hockey gets off to strong start

Sunday, November 26, 2023 | 11:01 AM

There’s a lot to like about Pine-Richland hockey’s start to the season.

The Rams were 5-2 entering the Thanksgiving break and have been a strong team closing out games, allowing only two goals in the third period.

That’s put them in a logjam near the top of the uber competitive PIHL Class 3A.

Pine-Richland is in a three-way tie for second place, but only five points separate the top eight teams in the classification.

So the position is encouraging, but Rams coach Jordan Yoklic and his team know they have to keep evolving in a positive direction as the season rolls on.

“The Triple-A class has quality competition,” Yoklic said. “There’s a lot of teams that are improving. Our boys are taking the right steps and improving every day. Most importantly, whether it’s a positive or negative result, we’re learning from every experience and applying it to every opportunity.

“As a team we don’t want to be satisfied. We know we’re still working toward our best hockey and always looking for consistency. Our approach is learning how to make sure we’re getting better and working toward a goal of a championship.”

The Rams have been boosted by the play of their senior captain Zach Howard.

Howard had seven goals and nine points and was named the PIHL Class 3A player of the month for October.

“Zach has been a critical component of our team,” Yoklic said. “His leadership qualities on and off the ice have been fantastic. His body of work on the ice speaks for itself. He works so hard and understands that this is just the start. He isn’t satisfied and wants to continue to get better.”

Howard has combined with sophomore Cullen Campbell and senior Benjamin Baileys to form a potent top line.

Campbell, a sophomore, has matched Howard in points with three goals and six assists. Benjamin Baileys has four goals and two assists.

“They respond well to each other,” Yoklic said. “They all can be playmakers and they can all finish. They have all the tools and qualities to be successful. They are a hard line to defend.”

One of the season highlights thus far is being the only team to beat North Allegheny. The Rams defeated the Tigers, 5-4, on Oct. 19. Howard had a pair of goals. Campbell and Josh Lanyard added a goal and assist each and Hayden Keegan scored once.

Another fun stretch for the Rams was consecutive shutouts with two different goalies.

Nathan Dembowski had a 16-save shutout in a 4-0 win over Bethel Park on Oct. 26. Four days later, Brett Sudac provided symmetry with a 16-save shutout of his own in another 4-0 win over Baldwin.

Sudac and Dembowski have had a timeshare in goal and have performed well. Both have a goals-against average around two. They’ve combined to yield only 14 goals, which is tied for second in Class 3A.

“It’s a luxury to have a tandem like Dembowski and Sudac,” Yoklic said. “It’s unbelievable to have as a coach. You can go to either of those goaltenders with confidence. They are hard-working guys. Their eagerness to get better and competitive nature for the game are great things to see as a coach.

“They’re both quality teammates. They put the team first and understand the environment they are in right now. Every time their name gets called they put themselves in the best position to succeed.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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