Young defense improving for Franklin Regional hockey

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018 | 7:03 PM


With a rebuilt defense, Franklin Regional’s hockey team knew it’d go through an adjustment period.

It happened right away for the Panthers, who dropped their first two games of the year — 4-3 to Upper St. Clair and 5-0 to Latrobe.

Since then, though, the Panthers went 3-1, including a two-game winning streak.

“We have a lot of younger guys, and I think they just need to get in the rhythm,” Franklin Regional senior goaltender Danny Soltesz said. “I think they are starting to catch up to the speed of the game.”

Graduation raided Franklin Regional’s blue line. Senior Dylan Lee and juniors Jack Pekor and A.J. Noll were the only returning defensemen. So, the Panthers looked to three freshmen in Adam Hoff, Luke Beatty and Benton Yurko to help step into spots immediately.

“They are out there every other shift, probably,” Soltesz said. “They made the jump from middle school to varsity hockey, which isn’t easy. They are getting smarter and faster as they adjust to it. They are doing pretty good back there.”

Soltesz, who helped the team win consecutive PIHL Penguins Cup championships in 2016 and ’17, has tried to guide the young defensemen in front of him.

“It’s different than the other years, but I try to help them out as much as I can and help them keep their positivity,” he said. “We’re all trying to be mentors and staying positive on the bench and tying to help out the young guys any way we can.”

Beatty directly helped the team beat Plum, 2-1, in overtime with his first high school goal. The squad followed that up with a key 5-4 decision over Hempfield to push its record to 3-2-0-1.

“We’ve built some confidence up, especially beating Hempfield since they are one of the top teams,” Soltesz said. “We feel pretty good about how far we’ve come along.”

The team’s other victory was a one-goal decision, too.

“I think most of our wins will be grind-them-out wins. That’s what we’re going for since we’re playing more of a defensive system,” Soltesz said. “It’s different, but it keeps things fun. I kind of like those games. They are a lot more exciting.”

Soltesz, a PIHL all-star the past two seasons, has seen more shots his way this year than in seasons past. He had 41 saves in the victory over Hempfield.

“I’m getting maybe 40 shots per game. I kind of like that,” he said.

The offense still has some firepower left with senior Olda Virag, who had a team-best eight points. Trent Lunder netted five goals and seven points, while Kevin Cakanac had four goals and seven points. Mathieu Silva had six points, while Joseph Scherpereel contributed five points.

“The older guys up front like Olda, who has been playing varsity for four years, they’ve been mentors up there to the younger guys up top,” Soltesz said. “They’ve been helping out a lot, too.”

While the PIHL season is long, Soltesz sees continual positive strides from the team.

“We’re just trying to keep it up and make a playoff spot and see what happens from there,” he said. “These wins have helped to build up some confidence. I think we’re ready to go for the rest of the season.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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