SHSHL Ice Hockey Notebook (12-15-21)

By Craig Ostroff

Seniors lead the way for undefeated PW

There’s a certain sense of urgency that comes with a senior-laden team.

Plymouth Whitemarsh is playing with that urgency. As a result, the Colonials are 4-0 to start this season, and have a chance to complete the 2021 portion of the schedule unbeaten when they finish out the calendar year hosting Hatboro-Horsham at 8:50 pm Thursday at Hatfield Gray.

“We’re definitely happy with the start, and it’s exciting to think about our potential,” said PW coach Josh Aiello. “We have a solid group, and a strong senior class. Oftentimes that can help propel a team in high school sports, those seniors digging in, knowing this is their last chance to compete at the high school level. We feel that that’s going to be a huge strength for us as we go through the season.”

While PW may not have the offensive powerhouses that divisional rivals Abington and Wissahickon do, they possess skill and experience all over the ice. And despite their early successes, the Colonials know they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them if they want to achieve their goals.

“We never feel like we’re where we need to be, there’s always something to improve on,” said senior captain Aidan Keogh. “We always want to get better. We have a strong overall game, we’ve got good, strong goal-scoring production, and we’re really good on defense as well. I feel like we’re a really balanced and strong team.”

One aspect of the team that makes PW truly unique is its goaltending situation. While teams traditionally designate a starting goalkeeper who logs the majority of the playing time, PW has started the season with senior Kolton Galie and junior Christopher Maslij splitting time between the pipes.

It’s a trend that Aiello sees continuing as long as the two continue to impress and improve.

“I think we have the luxury of two very competent goalies,” Aiello said. “They have a really good relationship with each other. They compete hard in practice and they challenge each other, which is good. Throughout the season they’ll both be getting playing time. We’re really happy with both their performances, so we believe that having multiple goalies is a benefit.”

“Kolton and Chris have a great relationship, they push each other to be better and that motivates the rest of the team as well,” Keogh said. “When one of them is in net, the other one is rooting him on. We’re all a family, we celebrate each other’s successes. And the rest of the team has faith and confidence no matter which one is in net.”

On the offensive end of the rink, the senior leaders are doing exactly what’s expected of them. Keogh, a four-year varsity player, comes into the week with a team-leading 12 points on 5 goals and 7 assists. Fellow four-year varsity forward Luke Weikel has 9 points on 6 goals and 3 assists, while Danny Smith has 6 points (4G, 2A).

“Aidan and Luke usually play together, and it can be pretty spectacular how they cycle the puck and the movement they have,” Aiello said. “Danny Smith has gotten better and better over his high school career, and he’s a great locker room presence. Those three on offense, they’re the senior leaders, not just on the ice but off the ice as well.

“We have some offensive power. We got a hat trick from a player on the second line last game, and our first line can put up numbers. And there are a bunch of other guys who can contribute, too. Having a varsity and a JV team, that level of competition is instilled in our players. Every week we can swing up some JV players, so if that level of play isn’t there, there’s someone else ready to step up. It keeps everyone focused and on their game.”

The Colonial defense is anchored by junior Conlan Carpenter, now in his third year of varsity play.

“Conlan is a great guy to have back there,” Aiello said. “He’s a very intelligent defenseman, he’s got a great shot, he’s able to be physical when needed. He’s not the most vocal guy but he’s one of the people that leads by example.”

Once the calendar changes and the season resumes, the Colonials will find themselves facing some big games. American Conference foes Abington and Wissahickon—both of whom are also undefeated in conference play—loom large in January as big tests for PW.

The Colonials expect to approach those games as they’ve done the others … by taking care of their own game.

“We respect for other team, but we’re confident in our abilities,” Aiello said. “I always tell the guys that our biggest competition is ourselves. It’s true in life and it’s true in high school sports. You’re competing against guys in the same age range as you, so really it’s the people who are going to outwork your opponent who are going to be successful.

“We try to focus on physical strength, mental strength, and our systems. If we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, I’m not worried. We respect our opponents and have a game plan, but if we play our game, I think we’ll perform well.”

The Colonials are hoping that all translates into a successful season. As a senior-heavy team, there’s always that lingering feeling that for many of these players, this is their last chance, and they want to go out with as big a bang as possible.

“We have high expectations and goals for this season,” Keogh said. “We’re definitely shooting for the Flyers Cup and the league championship is on our mind. We’re not trying just to get into the playoffs or Flyers Cup, we want to win the whole thing.

“But we know we have to play each game to the best of our ability if we want to get where we want to be at the end of the season. What happened last week doesn’t matter. What we have coming up next month doesn’t matter. We’re looking at this week right now. We want to win this and then move on to the next game.”

Lopez making the most of his opportunity for Golden Hawks

Last season, Carson Lopez got his chance to experience varsity hockey, logging time on the ice, but waiting his turn while then-senior Jimmy Sweeney played a majority of the games for Council Rock South.

Now it’s his turn.

Lopez has been a key part of the Golden Hawks’ strong start. Heading into the week, South sits atop the National Conference with a 2-1 record (4-1-1 overall). They finish out the 2021 portion of their schedule visiting Central Bucks West at Hatfield Gray Thursday at 7:10 pm, then squaring off against Father Judge next week.

“Carson and Jimmy were the only goalies in the program last year, and Carson got into a handful of games,” said South coach Joe Houk. “But we rode Sweeney last year, and Carson understood. He’s a junior this year, so he’ll have two solid years for us, and he’s doing a tremendous job so far.”

Among the league leaders in saves, Lopez may have had his best outing when he turned aside 62 of 65 shots he faced in a 3-3 tie with Pennsbury in the third game of the season. Coming into the week, Lopez was second in the SHSHL with 211 saves and sports a strong 2.95 goals against average and .921 save percentage.

“Carson is taking care of the back end, the defense is playing well in front of him, and the offense is looking good,” Houk said. “Everyone is contributing. Kevin Coles is our top defender along with Kyle Boss. We have a good slew of forwards, and a handful of young guys. Dave Vergules and Julian Wagenmann are playing well. We have our captain back, Matt Constantini. They’re all doing a great job and working hard.”

Vergules, Wagenmann, and Gavin Nisenzon each have 8 points as part of a balanced attack for the Hawks. Kevin Koles leads the team with 13 points (6G, 7A), Julian Sarne is close behind with 11 points, including a team-leading 8 goals.

As the Hawks prep for the 2022 part of the schedule, they’ve already had their share of quality opponents, having already played defending Class AA champion Pennsbury twice and squaring off against undefeated Pennridge early in December.

“Playing better teams this early in the year, it’s a plus for us,” Houk said. “We don’t really blow teams off the ice, so these games show the guys what we need to do to be successful. These are the games that build character.”

Central Bucks West getting bigger and better

Last year, Central Bucks West fielded a depleted team loaded with underclassmen.

This year, the Bucks are back … they’re one year older, one year bigger, one year stronger.

And it shows.

“I don’t think anything makes a difference more than the age difference in high school sports,” said West coach Dave Baun. “One fundamental difference between club teams and high school teams is that on clubs, everyone is the same age. But if you’re 14 and you’re going in against 18-year-old men, the size, the strength difference … it’s hard to overcome that.”

But that young team from last year returns, as do several older players who decided not to play during the uncertainty of last year’s Covid-shortened and regulated season. West is seeing the benefits already.

“Last year was a difficult year in many ways,” Baun said of the Bucks’ winless campaign. “We missed a lot of games and practices due to Covid. There was a lot of uncertainty about whether the season would be played at all, and there were some players who chose not to play because of it.

“But those kids all came back this year, and we have a number of sophomores who saw time as freshmen last year who are playing pretty good right now, we have five freshmen this year who are all playing well.”

The Bucks enter the week at 3-3 overall. They started the season with two victories, and last week pulled out a 3-2 victory over high-scoring defending Class A champion Wissahickon.

“Our team starts with our goaltender, Liam Rogers, and he was spectacular against Wissahickon,” Baun said of his sophomore keeper, who boasts a stellar 2.50 goals against average and .928 save percentage. “He faced 45 shots and only let in 2 goals. He was really spectacular, and he’s also just a fabulous kid.

“It’s very rare that Liam is beaten on a first chance. The last two seasons, I can count on one hand the number of times he’s been beaten on a first chance. Having a goalie like that is a huge advantage. He’s really helped our team and kept us in games. We beat North Penn in the preseason, we’ve been in three one-goal games in a row. They were close games and Liam really helped keep us in them.”

In the offensive zone, the Bucks are building a multi-line attack. While West has no scorers in double-digits yet, the team has seen 16 players contribute to the scoreboard. Billy Loughnane (4G, 3A) and sophomore Nick Bruno (5G, 2A) lead the team with 7 points each. Adam Ricci and Grant Funseth each have 6 points.

“We’re really looking at having some parity in our scoring up and down the lines. Our scoring is well-distributed, we’re running three lines evenly,” Baun said. “We have our kids like Billy Loughnane, where points don’t really show how effectively he was playing. He’s starting to pick them up now, but even without scoring, he’s been playing really well. Nick and Adam can score. We have a third line of all freshmen—Drew Trask, Jack Misoda, and Zane Sanders—and they’re really good players. They’re very coachable, they haven’t put up big numbers yet, but they’re making progress, and when they get a little bigger and stronger, they’re going to be dominant.”

West closes out the calendar year hosting Council Rock South Thursday at 7:10 pm at Hatfield Gray. The team will continue to look for improvements and growth as the year progresses. And they’re looking to have fun while making some noise in the division and picking up some more wins along the way.

“We have a lot of work to do, we haven’t hit our peak yet, but I’m happy with the start,” Baun said. “We’re working hard every practice, and right now our goal is to play better every game and to correct things we do wrong.

“Last year, even though we didn’t win a game, I enjoyed that season a lot, it was one of my favorite seasons because I liked the kids so much, and most of them are back this year. They’re good kids to be around, we’re winning a little, and we’re looking to win a few more games. That always makes it better, everyone’s a little happier when you’re winning games.”