Meadville Tribune

March 7, 2013

H.S. HOCKEY: Strong start the key in 'Dogs' postseason opener

By Pete Chiodo
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — It’s all going to depend on which version of the Meadville Bulldogs hockey team shows up for tonight’s Lakeshore Hockey League semifinal against New York’s Southwestern/Maple Grove.

Will it be the Bulldogs team that could never quite find its footing in a 5-4 loss to SW/MG back on Feb. 4?

Or will it be the Bulldogs team that routed the Lakers 10-2 just a couple weeks later?

It isn’t hard to guess which one Meadville head coach Jamie Plunkett would prefer to take the ice for tonight’s 8:15 face-off at Erie Insurance Arena.

“We’ve seen these guys twice in less than a month,” said Plunkett. “We’re pretty familiar with them. We know what we have to do. Now we need to just go out and do it.”

Getting off to a strong start seems to be the key. In the loss to SW/MG, it was the Lakers taking early advantage.

“They scored in the first minute of the game,” said Plunkett. “And it seemed that the rest of that night we were always playing catch-up. And then every time we scored, they responded.”

In Meadville’s win over Southwestern/Maple Grove on Feb. 21 (Meadville also beat SW/MG 7-5 way back on Nov. 13) the Bulldogs put the pedal to the metal and never let it up, getting eight different  players to record goals and posting a shots-on-goal differential of 45 to 19.

“The thing that is encouraging is that in the last  seven or eight games we’ve scored a few more goals than we had been earlier in the season,” said Plunkett. “For the longest time we were really struggling to put the puck in the net. If we gave up more than two or three goals, we were going to be hard pressed to win. But later in the season, we’ve been getting some more goal scoring.”

That increase in productivity allowed Meadville to win four of its last five games to finish the regular season with an overall record of 20-9-3 and a Lakeshore record of 9-1-2. That was good enough to net the Bulldogs the top seed heading into the playoff tournament.

Meadville’s top goal-scorer has been senior Rob Stainbrook, who has 32 (along with 16 assists). He’s followed closely by fellow 12th-grader Cade Nickerson who has 26 goals. And with 24 assists, Nickerson leads the team with 50 points.

Junior Josh Orr is second in points with 49, scoring 17 goals while recording a team-high 32 assists.

Various other Bulldogs have also been putting the puck on net, like seniors Mike Bogardus (17 goals, 9 assists) and Derek Richardson (12 goals, 19 assist), junior John Gizzie (14 goals, 21  assists) and sophomore Bryan Ray (16 goals, 15 assists).

“Getting some balanced scoring has helped too,” said Plunkett. “That’s been a plus, to get other people involved in the scoring. ...  Last year, our top two scorers were Chris Allegretti and Garrett Hope — two defensive players. That’s the first time in all my years that has happened. A little more balanced scoring from the forwards has helped this year.”

Speaking of scoring defensemen, Southwestern/Maple Grove has one — senior Alexander Carlson. And Plunkett is keen for his defenders to keep an eye on him.

“He had three goals against us in the game that they won,” said Plunkett. “He’s got great hands, a great shot. When we had success against them on the 21st we made sure we went after him and didn’t give him a lot of room and time to shoot. We were much more effective against him on the 21st and were able to get off to a good start.”

The Lakers also have a dangerous forward in junior Andrew Farnham.

“Those are the two kids we need to do a better job against,” said Plunkett.

And, of course, goaltending will be important. Last time out, the Bulldogs thrashed both of SW/MG’s keepers, scoring three goals against starter Noah Weinstein in the first period, and then scoring seven in the second and third against replacement Ben Richard.

Stopping pucks for Meadville will once again be freshman Sam Kineston, who was placed into the starting role after junior Austin Guanzon’s season came to an end in December due to an injury.

“With Sam this year being put into this position the way he was, he’s done really well under the circumstances,” said Plunkett. “It’s a lot of pressure on a 14-year-old 9th grader. And I’m very impressed with how he’s responded to it. ... Look at the schedule we’ve had. He’s played against some pretty good teams and he’s really done a great job for a kid that probably never thought he’d see more than two or three games doing some mop-up work or maybe the odd start.”

The winner of tonight’s Meadville-SW/MG game will move on to the Lakeshore championship game, which is scheduled for March 14 at 8:30 p.m. at the Mercyhurst Ice Center. It will be against the winner of today’s Fairview-Fort LeBoeuf semifinal, which precedes Meadville’s game at 6:30 p.m. at the Erie Insurance Arena.