Young lineup off to strong start for Plum hockey
Saturday, October 23, 2021 | 11:01 AM
The Plum varsity hockey team won just one game last year in a 2020-21 season that was unlike any other in the history of the PIHL with delays, restrictions and numerous changes overall because of the covid pandemic.
But a new season with new opportunities has begun for the Mustangs, and coach Phil Mains already sees growth and positive outcomes from his players.
“I’ve kind of been calling us a young team, but we have a lot of experience,” said Mains, who oversees a roster of four seniors, four juniors, four sophomores and five freshmen.
“All of the sophomores have played a year already, and we have seniors and juniors who have played a lot of games, for sure. It’s a nice mix. It’s a lot of fun. It’s nice to have the same expectations for the freshmen you have for the seniors and see how they mesh together on different lines and defensive pairings. It’s put us in a good spot.”
After several years of playing at the Class 2A level, Plum bumped down to Class A. The Mustangs are in the Northeast Division with Fox Chapel, Freeport and Hampton.
The league uses a formula, Mains said, based largely on winning percentage in recent seasons, to determine where teams will be placed in each classification. They draw the lines, rank all the teams and begin the placement process.
“That was the league’s call,” Mains said. “It wasn’t the decision I would’ve made if I was making it. You can sometimes make a case if you feel you are coming back with a strong team. It was out of our control. But it is what it is, and we have a goal to play well against whoever we face this season.”
Plum is 2-1 in the early season with a 3-1 win over Westmont Hilltop, an 8-2 triumph over Freeport and a 5-3 loss to Wheeling Catholic.
The Mustangs last played Oct. 18 and don’t return to game action until Nov. 4 against Blackhawk.
Plum scored twice in the third period of the opener against Westmont to snap a 1-1 tie after two periods. Freshman Rylan Schoonover scored both third-period goals, one coming even strength and the other shorthanded.
Senior Max Weingrad tallied the other goal for Plum.
“There was a cool moment in the Westmont game,” Mains said. “We took our first penalty of the year, and we sent out two freshman forwards to kill the penalty. It’s a thing where you don’t really think about their year at the time, but after the game, watching the tape, it was cool to look back and see how well they did in that moment. That was really good for us.”
Schoonover continued his hot start to the season against Freeport with a hat trick, while junior Zach Miller and senior Parker Gable each scored two goals. Junior David Westbrook had the other.
Gable led the way with three assists, and junior goaltender Kaleb McCabe made 21 saves to earn the victory between the pipes.
Miller scored twice and senior John Hanlon also found the back of the net in the loss to Wheeling Catholic.
Mains said having a full offseason of work, as compared to last year, really helped bring the team together.
“Last year, it was the same for everyone, so we don’t have an excuse for what our record was, but I love to do a lot of preseason work together, including a lot of dryland strength and conditioning and film work, things like that. We couldn’t do a lot of things outside of (on-ice) practice last year. We didn’t have a preseason tournament.
“We really hit a lot of those things hard this year as soon as our season ended in March. The first week of April, we started working out a couple times a week and had pretty good attendance there. As we moved into the summer, the seniors really led the conditioning and strength workouts. It was a good foundation for the season.”
Plum played three preseason games at the Greensburg Central Catholic tournament and also got in a scrimmage game.
“That is huge when you have five freshmen on a team, and they got to play three real, quality games against high-level competition,” Mains said.
“They were able to really see what varsity hockey is all about. It also helped the team as a whole come together, get their feet wet, get something on tape and work on game situations. That work and preparation really showed in our first couple of games.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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