Players from CR South, North Penn & Quakertown are featured in this week's SHSHL notebook. (Quinn Holt photo provided courtesy of Jenny Porubski.)
Young players stepping up for Golden Hawks - Council Rock South hasn’t gotten off to a typical start.
In a season that’s been anything but normal for every player and every coach on every team, the Golden Hawks have gotten off to a lukewarm 3-4-0-2 start this season.
But if you ask coach Joe Houk, the future looks bright for the Golden Hawks, and the future starts now.
“We’re not doing too badly, but we’re struggling scoring goals right now,” Houk said.
Part of the reason for Houk’s positive outlook is the development of the team’s three most utilized freshmen.
Defenseman Kevin Koles is a fixture on the blueline for the varsity squad this season. After going through the standard early-season growing pains, he’s gaining confidence, and it’s showing in his play.
“Every game Kevin gets stronger and stronger—he’s steady and solid back there,” Houk said. “In the beginning of the season, he was afraid to make mistakes out there, now he’s coming into his own. He gets power play time, penalty kill time, he’s a freshman who’s carrying an upperclassman’s role. He’s a kid that’s got great skill, good hands.”
The Hawks have also gotten significant minutes and have seen substantial development from forwards Chase Tovsky and James Dilulio, both of whom split time between varsity and junior varsity, but are making the most out of their time on the main squad.
“Both of them play most of our games,” Houk said. “They both contribute, both take regular shifts. It’s not like they’re out there giving other guys a rest, they’re contributing regularly.
“They both have great hands. Jimmy is getting some power play time, learning, getting the experience. They’re both hard workers, they manage the game properly, they don’t go out there and try to do too much.”
As the season has progressed, the younger players are learning their roles, adapting to varsity play, and observing the veteran players.
“I think they’re getting more comfortable,” Houk said. “When the atmosphere is comfortable, it helps create great things. Early on, it can be chaos for a young kid. It’s not anymore. They’re not worried about playing perfectly and impressing, it’s now about going out and doing their job.
“We’ve got a freshman, Nolan O’Brien, he’s a really good player, but early in the season it was always, ‘Coach, what can I do better?’ I keep giving them the same answer, ‘Just work harder.’ The captains and the seniors on the team are always on the younger guys about working hard. I had tweaked my knee recently and couldn’t be out on the ice, my senior guys took control of practice. When you get leadership like that, things start to fall into place.”
Houk is already seeing it happen. And he’s confident that those pieces will be in place for the final weeks of the regular season … and into the postseason.
“We’ll be there in the long run,” he said. “I think you’re seeing more parity in the league this year than in previous years. There are a couple teams that are a bit better, but a lot of the time, it comes down to who plays harder and makes fewer mistakes. We’ll be there in the end, we’re still looking to play some good games down the home stretch and do well in the playoffs.”
South will get a big test Thursday at 7:20 pm, when they visit Neshaminy at Grundy Ice Arena.
Holt coming back strong in return to ice- Quinn Holt certainly knows how to make an entrance.
The North Penn senior suited up for just the second time this season on Feb. 26 in a key matchup against Continental Conference-leading Pennridge. Holt made his presence felt by netting two goals in a 3-0 win, including the game’s first goal, which would hold up as the game winner.
In Monday’s rematch, Holt scored the game-winner again, this time with 5 minutes left in the third to lift the Knights to a thrilling 5-4 victory.
“Quinn was probably a little rusty in his first game back against CB East (on Feb. 24),” said North Penn coach Kevin Vaitis. “Each game he’s gotten stronger.”
Quinn has missed most of the regular season after sustaining a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during baseball season last year. A complete tear would have required Tommy John surgery and about a year of rehab before he’d be cleared to resume athletics. But surgery for a partial tear gave him a 3-to-4-month recovery period.
With the pandemic delaying the hockey season, Holt had surgery in the winter so that he’d be ready to pitch when baseball season rolled around, and thanks to the later start to the hockey season, it would likely allow him to get in some important regular season action before the postseason began.
Holt is making the most of it.
“It’s great to be back out on the ice,” Holt said. “When I was out, I was really missing the guys. It feels really good to be back and playing, and we’re looking to turn the season around now.”
After an inconsistent start to the season, the Knights have won three of their last four games, and now sit at 5-4-1-1, tied for second place in the Continental Conference. They hit the ice next on March 12 against Council Rock South at Revolution Ice Gardens.
Holt put in the time and effort over the summer in preparation for his return to baseball—and hopefully to the ice. Once he was cleared and was able to practice with the team, it didn’t take him long to get back into playing shape.
“I definitely felt a little rusty skating,” he said. “It was was a little rough the first practice skating and stickhandling. But from all the time over the summer, I was really hitting the weight room hard, I put on 15-20 pounds, I think it’s carried over to my speed, the strength of my shot. It didn’t take long until I felt my skating and my stickhandling was back to normal.”
It didn’t take long for Holt to make it known that his physical gameplay was back to normal as well.
“We were talking before his first game back,” Vaitis said. “I was telling him, ‘Just go out and work hard, get your feet wet, get used to it again.’ His first shift, he threw a nice, big check to get himself into it. ‘OK, I guess you’re healthy.’ But it’s good to see that. You want to see him test that out, know that it’s healthy again, ease your mind a little bit.”
And that’s a good thing, because right now, there is only one thing on Holt’s mind—helping the Knights make a strong showing to close out the regular season and into the postseason. Game-winning goals are nice, but he’s far more concerned with the outcome of the game than with who scored which goal.
“When you look back, it’s definitely cool to think about, I was able to come back and help win the game for the guys,” Holt said. “But that’s in the past now. We’re always looking forward, preparing for the playoffs, and keeping it going. I think we’re on the right track.”
Vaitis believes that in addition to the skill and physicality that Holt brings, his mere presence on the ice makes him a great example for the younger players to observe and learn from.
“Having Quinn out there goes to show his commitment and dedication he has to this team,” Vaitis said. “Even when he wasn’t able to play, he had some games he was able to make it out to and cheer the team on. It’s a good thing for the younger players to see, he worked hard to get back and he wants to make an impact in his senior year with this team.”
Once he heads outdoors in the spring, Holt has high hopes for the Knights baseball squad as well. He’s expecting big things from his senior year on the diamond, as well as his future as a student and baseball player at Bloomsburg University.
“When it first happened, it felt like maybe it was just a muscle,” Holt said. “It never felt better, we went to see a physical therapist thinking maybe it was a strain on the elbow, but we eventually got an MRI and found out it was a torn UCL. My first concern was that that was an important year as far as looks from colleges go. I wasn’t thinking so much about what was happening right then, but what might happen in the future if the colleges stop looking.”
“The guys at Bloomsburg have been really awesome about it. They’ve been right there with me through the whole process, always checking in to see what’s going on. They’ve been great. I’m looking forward to that, but I’m also super-excited about this spring. I think we’ve got a great team this year and a chance to go far. We have a chance to make it a really special season.”
Panthers laying a foundation - Sometimes, a win is more than just a win.
In only its second year as a varsity program in the SHSHL, the Quakertown ice hockey team is experiencing the types of ups and downs one expects from a squad that has both club-level players as well as first-year hockey players.
Chemistry and strategies are still works in progress. As a result, while improvements can be seen as the season progresses, the Panthers have been chasing that elusive first win after dropping their first seven games.
Last week, the Panthers finally got over the hump, defeating American Conference opponent Hatboro-Horsham 8-3 to earn their first victory of the season.
“Getting a win is huge for the kids, it’s huge for the club all-around, it validates what they’re doing,” said Quakertown coach Keith Krem. “You play sports for fun, but no one wants to show up and lose. Getting that win validates what they’ve been doing.”
A key to the Panthers’ improvement and their victory comes from the defensive end of the ice. Led by captain and defenseman Eric Orzehoski—who leads the Panthers with 9 goals and 9 assists and contributed 4 goals and a pair of assists in the win—and Anthony Pagliei (7G 8A), Quakertown boasts two experienced, skilled two-way players on the blue line.
“We have our stronger players playing defense,” Krem said. “Eric is a calm, cool, and collected player. He leads by example, always puts together strong performances, and he competes to the end of the game no matter what the score is.
“Anthony we moved back onto defense. He’s playing well, distributing the puck, finding success with teammates as much as he is on his own.”
Behind Orzehoski and Pagliei and their defensemates is senior Austin Stoudt. One only needs to see the A on his jersey to know how important he is to this squad.
“Austin had a standout year last year, this year as a senior he’s doing another fantastic job backstopping us,” Krem said. “He comes up with the big save when you need it. He’s an assistant captain, which is rare for a goalie, but he deserves to be. He’s a standout individual.”
The Panthers’ coach also credits his second-line wingers, freshman Kiera Shaw and junior Melanie Pezzano, for their outstanding play.
“Kiera and Mel are playing second-line minutes, they have a heavy workload,” Krem said. “They’re both doing a really nice job. They bring a ton of travel experience, they’ve been playing since they were little, so they’re among our more experienced players. They’re playing in a league that’s 99.9 percent a boys’ league and playing well and continuing to do a good job day in and day out.”
Having those experienced players is critical for a new program looking to define and establish its identity. It will help the Panthers in the future, but it may also help translate into several more marks in the win column in the second half of the season.
“For a program as young as we are, it’s important having good, strong leadership when trying to build a program from nothing,” Krem said. “We’re laying the foundation, the attitude of not wanting to give up.
“As far as the second half of this season, when you look at our scores, scoring hasn’t been a problem, it’s been getting ourselves organized in defensive zone and getting some of those forwards on board with their defense responsibilities. And that’s coming along. I’ve been pretty happy over last 3, 4 weeks. As our inexperienced players get more experience and get better, I think we’re looking at a better second half. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to dig ourselves out and get to .500, but for a second-year club, we’re seeing improvement every day. And that’s what you want to see.”
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