Most people don’t want to return from vacation.
Hempfield’s hockey team has the opposite mentality. The Spartans can’t wait to get back to PIHL Class AA play Jan. 13 against Meadville. When the puck drops for that contest, it will be the team’s first game since a 9-1 win over Penn-Trafford on Dec. 12.
“We were trying to get a couple scrimmages during the break, but it didn’t work out,” Hempfield coach Eric Grant said. “I do like to give my teams the Christmas break off. We have to make sure we keep things in perspective. The most important thing to these kids is that they are having fun. They got to spend time with family and enjoyed their time. That’s important to me. Hopefully, we come back with fire and passion from missing it, as opposed to it being a grind.”
That should not be an issue for the Spartans, especially since they have won three consecutive games.
“It was really nice to string some wins together,” Hempfield senior Matt Traczynski said. “At the same time, it was kind of disappointing because we were off the ice for so long, and we don’t want that momentum to die out.”
“It was great to build some momentum going into break,” Hempfield senior Trent Gray added. “I know everyone was excited to get some time off. Going into the break with that winning feeling helps us get through the break. It keeps everyone practicing in a positive mood and keeps us focused on the games coming up and, hopefully, on keeping the wins going.”
Traczynski leads the team with 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists), and Christian Konieczka is next with 22 points. Zach Ridilla (15 points), Aiden Dunlap (10), Jacob Holtzman (10) and Gray (16) all have double-digit points. Nine other players have at least two points.
“Every single player up front and all our defensive players have been contributing. While it may not be showing on the scoresheet, I see us growing away from the puck very, very quickly,” Grant said. “Our hockey sense, game sense and game speed are starting to jell. Our play away from the puck is really contributing to that success.
“We’re really coming together as a unit. We have depth, too. We can run our second or third line out against another team’s top line and be able to hold our own. That’s huge.”
Hempfield solidified its defense, too, when it moved Tristan Lloyd to the blue line to join Anthony Rendulich, A.J. Crivello, Jaxon Zeli, Caden Spehar, Logan Eisaman, Gino Antimarino and Gray.
“Moving Tristan back gave us a lot of speed,” Grant said. “He had never played defense, but he is an excellent skater and has really good hands. He has turned into a very good defensemen for us.”
Matthew Overdorff and Joe Behler have split time in goal.
“I think they are both improving. We’re playing better defense in front of them also,” Grant said. “We’re blocking more shots and not giving up as many great opportunities. I think that helps as well.”
After the game against Meadville, the Spartans have six remaining. With only the top two teams from each division qualifying for the Penguins Cup playoffs, they know each game is crucial. Latrobe (11-0) leads the division with 22 points. Franklin Regional (8-2) is next with 16 points. The Spartans (7-4) are third with 14 points.
“We’re working real hard because we know every point matters. We think we have a real shot,” Traczynski said. “It’s a lot of fun. It definitely makes games more intense and competitive. We’re competing with each other just to push ourselves farther.”
“We can’t look ahead. We have to get those points and then focus on the next team,” Gray added. “It makes it fun and keeps everybody’s heads up and interested in each and every game. We know we have to keep the good habits going and just move onto the next game.”