By Chris Gizzi
HARMAR, Pa. – Defending high school hockey champions, Shaler Area Titans, defeat Upper Saint Clair on Nov. 30 with a score of 7-3 at Blade Runners in Harmarville to remain an unbeaten 4-0 this season in hopes to repeat as number one.
The battle between the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League (PIHL) Champions and Upper Saint Clair was an intense and hard fought battle. The win gave the Titans some extra confidence for the long season ahead. Curt Hetz has been the head coach since the 2008 – 2009 championship run. Hetz believes that the team doesn’t need to change much from their run last year in order to have a similar experience such as last year.
The Shaler Titans have the same desire to win it all once again. As defending champions, they were well under a .500 team and struggling to find a solid core. In the 2008 – 2009 season, the Titans had a new head coach and a new core of talented, young players. They improved to have a perfect season. Their focus is very similar to last year.
“Our plan is just to get the team to focus on their own game, playing smart hockey, staying out of the box which we weren’t able to do too well tonight but sometimes you can’t control that,” Hetz said.
The Titans’ key to success focuses on team work ethic, raw talent and solid goal tending. One of the hardest voids for the team to fulfill was that which was left by the large amount of senior players who graduated in 2009. The team also had to figure out how other players would step up and fill that void.
“We lost three of our six defenseman we had last year, so our biggest adjustment was to bring in new kids that wanted to play defense. I’ve only been able to find one so far and I’ve ended up having to bring a forward back. I have Pat Schaffer that can play both ways, but if I do that, I take away my second leading scorer from our offensive scheme,” said Hetz.
Finding defensemen in high school hockey is usually an issue, and it is more often than not that a traditional forward will be sent back on defense to help out. Coach Hetz doesn’t think the issue of being malnourished with natural defensemen should hurt his offensive scheme.
“I pretty much tell the kids on offense to be creative and have a lot of fun, pressure when we can and use our skill to our advantage, “said Hetz.
One player who coach Hetz said, “Has been a pleasant surprise for us this year,” has been Josh Carnprobst, who had a goal and an assist in their 7-3 victory against Upper Saint Clair Monday night.
“Everyone just gets along well in the locker room and we are all good friends. We all realize how much fun it was last year making the run we did, and we really wanted to send a message tonight, by beating Upper Saint Clair early in the season, that we were a team that is not going to hold anything back,” said Carnprobst.
Goalie has also been a solid position for the Titans with returning goalie Oscar Prom and upcoming goalie Rich Cannon. Prom split time last year with then senior goalie, Steve Weilersbacher, and has prevailed as the starting goalie for this season.
“I think Oscar just has a little more experience against the top flight teams, so this year that’s kind of what I did for this particular game. I had Rich lined up to play this game but then I decided to go with Oscar because of his experience against the better teams like Upper Saint Clair,” said Hetz.
This year’s captain is Pat Schaffer, which seems to be a good fit for the team.
“You can’t have a captain who doesn’t show up to practice and makes excuses as to why we are losing or not playing well,” said Carnprobst. “Pat makes sure that everyone shows up and works their hardest all the time.”
With the Titans being the returning champs, it can seem to them, sometimes, that they are scrutinized a little more than other teams.
“I think at every game, this is what you’re going to see. Our team has a target on our back, especially with the referees. As long as everybody comes to play their game, I don’t think we will have a problem,” Hetz said.
With a 4 – 0 start, it is possible that the Shaler Area Titans could be the PIHL Champions for a second year in a row.