Pennridge Ice Hockey: A Season for the Ages

The 2021-22 Pennridge ice hockey team will go down in the record books for its accomplishments, but it was about much more than wins and losses during a historic season. It was about a special bond the players and coaches shared that was a driving force behind the team’s success. Photos provided courtesy of Tracy Valko, who followed the Rams’ playoff journey to the state title game. Click on the following link to view Valko’s galleries of the Rams’ remarkable season: https://solsports.zenfolio.com/f91667537

The Pennridge ice hockey team had a season for the ages. And that might even be an understatement for a season that will go down in the record books as the greatest in program history.

 

The Rams not only captured the SHSHL (Suburban High School Hockey League) championship, they also won the Flyers Cup for the first time in program history and went on to win the program’s first 2022 PA State Cup for capturing the state championship. The team was awarded two trophies for each championship – one to keep and the larger trophy to keep in their possession for the year.

 

Winning trophies was just part of the story for this special Rams’ squad that featured a remarkable combination of seasoned veterans and talented underclassmen. Game stories documenting the season have been written, but it’s interesting to hear the perspectives of both players and head coach Jeff Montagna. Below the seniors as well as Montagna share their thoughts about a storybook season.

 

PENNRIDGE ICE HOCKEY

 

SHSHL record: 16-0-1 (9-0-1 in league play for the regular season)

 

Overall record: 23-0-1

 

Roster:

Aidan Boyle – Senior

Andrew David – Senior

Ryko Lehrhaupt – Senior

Jacob Lizak – Senior

Jack Lowery – Senior

Pierce McGinley – Senior

Ryan Pico (goalie) – Senior

Ryan Schuler – Senior

Cooper White – Senior

Dane Fitchett – Junior

Jake Gilbert (goalie) – Junior

Andrew Lizak – Junior

Colin Dachowski - Sophomore

Tyler Manto – Sophomore

Trey Mikulich – Sophomore

Kevin Pico – Sophomore

Andrew Savona – Sophomore

Shane Dachowski - Freshman

Jared Garber – Freshman

Josh Kelly – Freshman

Nate McKean – Freshman

Nolan Shaw – Freshman

 

Head Coach - Jeff Montagna

Assistant coach - Chris Pico

Manager - Dana Pico

 

2022 Flyers Cup
Pennridge 5, Ridley 2
Pennridge 7, Downingtown East 5
Pennridge 8, Avon Grove 1
Pennridge 5, Council Rock South 1


2022 Pennsylvania Cup
Pennridge 4, Thomas Jefferson 3 (2 OT)

Q&A with Pennridge seniors

What made this team work/why was this group so successful?

Ryan Pico: “This team was so successful due to everyone being friends with each other, on and off the ice, for years and having built up chemistry from playing together previously.  Also, just having teammates who were there for each other and having no panic through whatever happened.”

Jack Lowery: “The depth of the team.  We had unbelievable goaltending from (Ryan) Pico all year, and we had so many guys who could make things happen every time they were on the ice.  Our coaches had a great feel for the team and just let us play.  It was a true TEAM and just a great group of guys.”

Ryko Lehrhaupt:  “The chemistry this team had this season was unlike any team I have ever played for.  Going out every game knowing the guys around you want to give 110 percent every shift allowed us to have depth that a lot of other teams didn’t have.”

Jacob Lizak: “We were really close with each other, and everyone was included.”

Andrew David:  “Aside from the fact that most of us grew up playing hockey together, our overall team chemistry, dedication, work ethic, and perseverance was unlike any other team I’ve played on. We had nine seniors on the team this year, including myself, and the values I feel we brought to the team throughout the season were picked up right away by our younger guys. The whole team supported each other on and off the ice in more ways than one, and that in itself helped us work better together. We were either going to win together or lose together, yet, no matter the outcome, we were going to do it as a team (thankfully it was in our favor).”

Ryan Schuler:  “I think what made our team most successful was our confidence.  We approached every game we played like we were going to win, and we did just that.  Even when we were down in some of the most important games of the season, there was always a sense that we were going to come back.  I think that has a lot to do with the young talent on the team.  Our younger players stepped up in every clutch moment and that combined with Ryan Pico playing lights out the whole season really just made us feel unbeatable.”

Aidan Boyle:  “We were so successful because everyone wanted to win for each other.”

Cooper White:  “Everyone had so many great built up connections since middle school and some since elementary school.  We all wanted to win so badly and still had fun together.  The locker room energy was like no other.”

Pierce McGinley:  “The reason our team worked was a combination of a few things. The chemistry everyone had was unmatched by any team in the league or state for that matter. Anyone can work together and consistently produce. We didn’t have set lines all year, people were always moving around. Another reason is all of the diversity on the team. This goes with the chemistry, but we had four solid lines that could be put out and properly defend and produce points. That, factored in with our solid D and the brick wall (Ryan) Pico in net, was just too much for any other team to compete with.” 

 

What will you remember most about the season/best memory from the season?

Ryan Pico:  “I’d be lying if I didn’t say winning the State Championship is my best memory from this season, especially the way it happened.  Having my brother score the game winner in double OT in a game like that beats almost anything else that has happened during my entire hockey career.”

Jack Lowery:  “Once we beat Holy Ghost, we knew this was for real and we could beat anybody.  That really helped us in our playoff run.  We had a ton of confidence even when we were down in games.”

Ryko Lehrhaupt:  “The best memory of the season was beating Holy Ghost in OT.  That confidence boost showed us that there wasn’t a team in Pennsylvania that wanted to win more than we did.”

Jacob Lizak:  “I will probably remember the celebration after the State game the most.”

Andrew David:  “Winning one title would’ve been a great way to end my senior year, but winning three titles and making history as the first Pennridge Rams ice hockey team to win, not only The Flyers Cup, but also the Pennsylvania State Championship is something I will never forget. The best part of it all was getting to experience those moments alongside guys I’ve basically grown up playing hockey with - I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my high school hockey career.”

Ryan Schuler:  “Personally, helping win the SHSHL championship with an assist might be my favorite moment not just of the season but in all of my hockey career.  In my nine years of hockey, I had never been on a championship team, so being a direct part of how I won my first championship felt really good.  Each championship win felt amazing, but winning the State game was such a rush of different emotions.  On one hand, I was extremely happy because we managed to accomplish something very little teams had, but at the same time I knew this would be the last hockey game I play in so it was also very sad.  Nonetheless there was no better way for us seniors to end our high school careers.”

Aidan Boyle:  “Winning SHSHL.”

Pierce McGinley“There are two things that I will remember from this season: all of the fans coming out and the state game. Everyone was on the edge the entire game, and when it came down to it, we needed two extra periods to finish the game.  The moment we got to go over to our fans at the end of the game and celebrate our perfect season was and is probably going to be my favorite hockey memory.”

Cooper White:  “Something that I will always remember was celebrating in the locker room and on the bus after we won the State Chip.  So many emotions and I did it with all of my friends and knowing we got the job done.”

Anything else that stands out about the team/season?

Ryan Pico:  “Having one of the best hockey seasons of my life is something that I’ll never forget.  Also, being able to do it playing with my brother and being coached by my Dad is something special.  I got to do all of this with the help from all of my family and the student section that made every game electric to play in.”

Jack Lowery:  “The student section and the crowds were amazing.  Also, just being able to enjoy this with my entire family was so special.”

Ryko Lehrhaupt:  “The student section this year was unbelievable.  Shout out to the P-Block for showing out every night and allowing us to put on a show.”

Jacob Lizak:  “What really stands out is just how close we were and the overall support we gave each other.”

Andrew David:  “No matter how the game started for us - good or bad, we always were able to pick ourselves back up and rally together as a team to bring home the win. More than once, we started the third period down, but every guy on the ice had the same mindset and drive to win. We knew the skills we brought to the ice and gave it everything we had, every single game. We never gave up, even in the face of defeat, and at the end of the year, our team can truly say we left it all out on the ice and that was enough to make history.”

Ryan Schuler:  “This season was extremely hype.  It starts with our team being pretty cocky and then us also having the ability to back that up, made us really entertaining to watch.  We also had the biggest student section out of any team we played this year, and that made every game, even the blowouts, a fun one.  The student section also made us a better team because none of us wanted to lose in front of our friends.  I think that gave us the extra drive we needed to win.”

Pierce McGinley:  “Between our talent and our fans, it was a match made in Heaven. We constantly had tons of friends and family at the games filling the stands. Years past it’s just been family, mainly parents. It’s a different environment when there is a couple hundred of your friends in the building cheering for you, watching your every move. Truly unforgettable!”

Cooper White:  “Another great memory was seeing how loud the student section got and seeing all of my close friends go crazy every game.”

 

Q&A with coach Jeff Montgna

What was the key to this year’s successful season?

“Experience and the fact that on any given night you could go to a high school ice hockey game that we weren’t playing in, and there would be nine or 10 of them watching the game. And it was freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. The grades didn’t matter. The class they were in didn’t matter. They do everything together, and it’s not just seniors together. They go on vacation together, they hang out all summer. I’ve done this 25 years, and I’ve never had a team that was this close, and that stuff matters. It really does. It absolutely matters.”

 

Coaches typically set high goals for their teams, but did you think this kind of season was possible?

“I thought a lot about this. I knew we would be good. I don’t think if you’re really being honest with yourself that we win a state championship. I mean Pennridge has never even sniffed one. Only two Suburban One teams have ever won one. You know on paper you’re good, but you don’t know how good you’re going to be. Even during the season when we were winning games, at least for me, it’s something so far in the back of your mind that you don’t even go there because it’s just like – can we do this? You like to think you can but it’s hard. It’s really, really hard. The four weeks of playoffs felt like it went on for a year. It’s such a grind, it’s such a mental grind. I knew if we were going to do it - this was the year. If I’m being honest, did I think we’d win a state championship? Probably not. Not saying I didn’t think we could. Again, it’s so far out of the realm of anything we’ve ever done before. It’s hard to let your mind go there because you’re trying to stay in the moment all the time. Which is what you have to do with the team.

 

I went back and was looking at the year that we were shut down by COVID in the Flyers Cup. That season there were two undefeated Suburban League teams and there was one with one loss, and all of them lost in the quarterfinals of the Flyers Cup. So, you’ve got three teams that were a combined 38-2, and they didn’t even get to the semifinals of the Flyers Cup, which gives you an idea how hard it is. You’re playing teams and you don’t know anything about them, When you’re playing the league season , you know these teams inside out, you know the players inside out. This isn’t the NHL with advanced scouting and all that stuff. You always think there’s a team better than yourself that you’re going to have to beat at some point. For us that was the state championship, but it’s hard, it’s really hard. I hope they appreciate it for what it is because it’s something very, very special that they did this year.”

 

When you look back at the season, talk about your thoughts.

“The biggest thing for me was – yes, all year during the regular season, we were beating teams and we were beating teams handily. We didn’t trail at all until the last game of the year when we tied CR South, which was the first time we’ve been trailing all year. Then you go into the postseason playoffs, and you play three Suburban League games, you play four Flyers Cup games and a state championship, and they’re losing in the third period of three of them. They’re tied going into the third period of another one. They’re losing with six minutes left in the state championship game against Thomas Jefferson after blowing a 2-0 lead, and it just didn’t matter. What kind of summed it up – in the state championship game, it was double overtime, and we had just missed scoring to win the game. Aeryk Lehrhaupt came off the ice and looked at me and said, ‘We’re scoring the next shift.’ We happened to score on the shift while he was on the bench, but just the fact that he came to me – that they had that much confidence in themselves. A lot of times people say, ‘Maybe you ought to lose a game before you get there.’ It was one of those deals - I don’t want to lose a game because you don’t know what’s going to happen, and I don’t want to see what’s going to happen if we do lose a game somewhere along the line.

 

“They had so much confidence, they didn’t care about playing from behind. They were good and they knew it. That’s a combination that doesn’t always pop up.  They didn’t allow knowing they’re good to affect them. They didn’t allow it to take nights off. That’s rare. For 16-, 17- and 18-year old kids to not fear pressure says a lot about them. I think the parents felt more pressure than they did. I’m standing on the bench as a coach and you’re helpless. You’re at the mercy of what these guys do. I’d be lying If I didn’t say I was nervous in certain games. It was kind of weird in the double overtime (state championship game) – my mind kind of wandered. We were kind of on autopilot at that point They knew who was going out, they knew the order, they were dead tired, but I didn’t have to worry about guys staying out too long. I thought to myself – I wanted to win not to win a state championship. I wanted them to win because they deserved it. For everything they did through the year and really through the last three years – they deserved it.

 

“It was almost a sense of relief for me when they won because I just wanted them to finish the deal, I wanted them to be able to go out their way because they deserved it, they flat out deserved it. It was the best one month of my life coaching hockey, watching these guys do it. It was just really special to go through it with the seniors I’ve been through so much with. It was awesome.

 

Talk about this year’s group of seniors.

“They were the heart of the team. Aeryk Lehrhaupt was the heart and soul of the team with his emotion. Yes, the seniors were not our leading scorers, and on the Flyers Cup all-tournament team, it was all freshmen and sophomores. I’ve said this a couple times – when you’re a senior – not that they took a backseat because they had so much to do, but when you look at the scoring numbers and everything, it’s not easy to cede that power to the young guys. If you had any ego whatsoever – even one guy (complaining) and moaning about it, it can kill you, absolutely just ruin a season for you. There were guys that absolutely had their entire role changed this year as a senior. Never said a word to me about it, never complained, never said anything.

You need guys who can score, you need guys that are big-time players. More importantly, to do this, you need guys who understand their role and who are okay with it. You just can’t win without that. More teams than not are blown up because guys look at themselves as more than they are or they want to be something more than they are, and it just becomes a distraction, and it’s hard to coach a team that way when you’re worrying about keeping guys happy versus coaching them. To me, for the seniors, their lasting legacy is that they bridged the gap three years ago with an Eric Slater, and they bridged that gap, but they had no problem sharing the power.

 

“At different times during the year, Jack Lowery’s line was our top line. At different times during the year, it was Kevin Pico’s line, but in the end, the Kevin Picos of the world get all the pub because they led us in scoring. Shane Dachowski, as a freshman, gets the game-winner in the league overtime win. Kevin Pico, as a sophomore, gets it in the state championship, but behind the scenes, you can’t do it without guys who are okay with just winning hockey games and not what they get. That’s kind of cliché, but again, a lot of teams aren’t like that. It’s easy to say you’re the best or you have the most talent, but that only goes so far. It kind of aligned itself right this year. When you’re constantly winning games, when you’re constantly coming back in games – what can a player really say at that point. To me, the seniors’ lasting legacy is that they went through the whole gamut with us.

 

“This is my first full senior class since I’ve been there, and we’ve been through a lot together. I’ve coached a lot of them in club, and I’ve coached them in a lot of hockey games. And maybe as weird as it sounds, after we won the state championship, I was kind of sad because it was over, and I knew it was over. I was tired, I was drained, but more than anything, I was sad that I’d never get to coach these again.

“Every year guys graduate and I’m like, ‘Good, I’m done with you.’ Throughout the whole Flyers Cup ride, I just kept telling my wife – I just want to win to extend the season, that’s it. Just to coach them another game. Me personally, I didn’t care about a Flyers Cup – I did but I didn’t. I just wanted it to go on. As happy as I was, there was a part of me that was sad. It’s a good sad, but they brought something to this program, they brought something to the school in terms of the fans they brought out and how crazy it was and how loud it was at all the games, and I can’t thank them enough, I really can’t. I was just along for the ride with them, and it was awesome.

 

“They’re all friends on and off the ice. Even if they didn’t win a state championship, it didn’t matter. It just didn’t matter. I told them in the locker room after the game – ‘I just want you to understand how special of a hockey team you were. Don’t ever take it for granted - you’ll take this with you the rest of your life. I know I will, and I’m just a dude on the bench watching them play. I saw what it meant to the players. I know what it meant to them. Going back to what I said – they deserved it. When they put that much work in, to see them get rewarded, it makes everything worth it. It hasn’t always been easy with some of these guys through the years. It’s funny because I said to them – it’s kind of the opposite of how I sometimes want these guys to be, but there was part of them that was arrogant, and they were cocky. You can be when you back it up. You can be that way when you have each other’s back, and I say that in a nice way that they were arrogant and cocky. They just expected it, and that starts with the seniors. That starts with Aeryk Lehraupht and Jack Lowery. That’s where it starts. It’s arrogant and cocky in a good way.  They never took a night off, they never took a game off. I never walked into a locker room, ‘You know what? You can’t play this way.’ I didn’t have to say it once to them.

 

Any final thoughts about the season?

We lost Aidan Boyle for the finals and the state championship. You lose one of your top guys, which hurts, but the boys didn't let it bother them. They had confidence they would still win. I just go back to – winning a state championship was special. It does not happen very often in any sport. There’s not a lot of them. Maybe in football. Short of CB South in hockey winning two and Council Rock South 10 years ago winning two, there hasn't been a Suburban One League team that's even sniffed getting there. 

 

“Every night. Even the game we tied in the regular season against Council Rock South where you just completely outplayed them and you tie the game. It happens, but I think the big one is you look at in the quarterfinals, and with 10 minutes left we’re losing to Downingtown East. You’re 10 minutes away from your season ending, you’re 10 minutes from all of this meaning nothing in the end. You lose in the quarterfinals of the Flyers Cup, in a few years, everyone forgets about you. It doesn’t matter how great your year was nobody remembers.

 

“The other amazing thing – we were trailing three games in the third period and tied going into the third in another one. In the three games we were trailing, every goal we scored was scored by a different player. That says a whole lot. Somebody might have had two, but I’m pretty sure it was a different player who scored in all those games, and that speaks to the depth. It speaks to everything about them.

 

“You win the league championship in overtime and you saw from the parents to the kids to the students – everyone losing their minds. Then you win the Flyers Cup championship, and it was almost slightly subdued because at that point it was – okay, we have one more to do. I said to my wife before the league championship game – I want to win this tonight because if we lose here tonight and we lose in the Flyers Cup, they didn’t win anything during the year, they didn’t win any championships. If you go undefeated all year and you lose to Council Rock South, you win nothing. Then we went into the Flyers Cup final, and it’s ‘You know what - I just want them to win a Flyers Cup. I don’t care about states. I want them to win a Flyers Cup, everything else is gravy. Then you get to the state championship – okay, well maybe it’s not gravy at this point. I guess that goes back to – one more game, let me coach them one more game.

“They were on the banquet circuit for a month. I can tell you they enjoyed every second of it. There will be a special bond with all of us.  We’ll be good moving forward. Two years from now, we’ll probably be really good again, but they’ll never recreate what they did this year. They can win again, but to recreate how they did it and the way they were as a team – you don’t recreate that. Maybe that’s not even a bad thing moving forward because you have to create your own path, your own legacy moving forward. Next year it’s much different than this year, it’s going to fall to a bunch of juniors and sophomores to do it next year versus seniors. We only have two seniors next year.

 

“And replacing guys. Replacing (goalie) Ryan Pico is going to be very, very difficult, and you probably don’t replace a Ryan Pico. He kind of got lost in the shuffle a little bit this year because we were winning so many games. I guess he saved his best for last. To go out in a state championship game with 62 saves in double overtime. I don’t even think we even had a shot on net in the first overtime. There’s a lot of heroes to mention, a lot of reminiscing. A lot of thoughts going into my head. I don’t struggle for words, but I do somewhat with this because they meant so much to me and because they meant so much to each other. It was a really cool thing.”

 

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