By PATRICK STROHECKER
This past Monday night kicked off another year of the Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League for some of the local high school teams in the area.
The 2014-15 season offers a chance for Central York, Dallastown, Susquehannock and West York to put last year’s disappointing seasons behind them and start fresh. After all, last year’s performances ranged from average for Central York and Susquehannock to downright awful for Dallastown and West York.
But, every new season gives each team new hope that the upcoming year will be different. Each team can set its sights on winning the ultimate prize, which for the Panthers and Wildcats is the Bears Cup and for the Warriors and Bulldogs is the Rothrock Cup.
So as the quest for Tier 1 and Tier 3 supremacy begins.
Here’s a look at what each team must improve on from last year if it wants to be more successful this season.
Central York: The Panthers kicked off their season on Monday night with a 5-0 loss to Palmyra. Giving up goals by the handful was the story all last season for the Panthers and that trend at least carried over into the first game this season.
Central York is coming off an OK 2013-14 season, when it went 8-10-0 and qualified for the playoffs. But, the Panthers’ time in the postseason was short-lived. They lost each of their first two games and were sent packing early.
But this year could be a little better for Central York. It has the potential to build off of some of the successes from last year and get over the .500 hump and play winning hockey. The Panthers are still a ways away from being on the same level as reigning Bears Cup champion Cumberland Valley and constant powerhouse Hershey, but they can improve on their sixth-place, regular-season finish from last year and give themselves a better draw come playoff time.
In order to do so, they must score more and give up less, which is about as obvious as it gets, but easier said than done. Typically, Tier 1 has the best collection of players in central Pennsylvania, meaning that on most nights, every game is a battle. Central York scored 3.38 goals per game last season, almost a full goal less per game than it gave up. If it can get its goals-per-game average on par with how many it surrenders, you can expect more than eight wins will be in store for the Panthers this year.
Dallastown: There’s nothing really positive to say about the Wildcats’ 2013-14 season. With that said, it means that there’s really only one direction for them to go and that’s up. Dallastown plummeted to an 0-17-1 record last year, good for dead last in Tier I and the second-worst team, record wise, in the CPIHL.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to pinpoint where the Wildcats struggled last season. They gave up 140 goals last year (7.8 goals against per game), 53 more than the next worst team in Tier 1. To put it nicely, a number that high isn’t a recipe for success. It’s tough to expect your offense to win you games when it needs to score eight goals just to have a shot. Better goaltending and defense is a must if Dallastown wants to be even remotely competitive this season.
The other drastic improvement the Wildcats need to make is in their discipline.
Along with leading the league in most goals against, Dallastown was also the most-penalized team last season, which could actually be a direct result on why the team surrendered so many goals. Common knowledge tells you that you score more and give up less when you spend more time at even strength or on the man advantage. But constantly finding yourself shorthanded will lead to losses 10 out of 10 times.
While I know I said that up is the only real direction this team has to go this season, there might not be a huge improvement from last year in terms of wins and losses. It’s difficult to drastically improve from one year to the next in high school athletics because it tends to rely on having a good junior varsity team and feeder system.
Improvements are in store for the Wildcats this season, just don’t expect it to necessarily reflect itself in the win column.
Susquehannock: The Warriors enter this year with some hope and optimism after going 7-9-2 last year and qualifying for the playoffs. Despite the sub-.500 record, Susquehannock had a relatively successful postseason run and was one game away from playing for the Rothrock Cup, but instead had to settle for third place.
Still, the Warriors were plagued in their losses last year by sub-par defense, giving up 4.77 goals per game, while only scoring 3.22. The talent gap between the top-three teams from last year — Susquehanna Township, Carlisle and Penn Manor — is pretty significant, but if any of the other teams from Tier 3 could make the jump into the upper echelon of teams, Susquehannock has the potential to do so. A simple reversal of its goals-for and goals-against numbers from last year could do the trick.
West York: The Bulldogs had a rough 2013-14 season, but quickly attempted to put it behind them with a season-opening 4-3 win over Middletown on Monday night. Coming off a 2012-13 year when it went 0-18 and then a 3-12-3 campaign last season, there was very little hope that West York would even have a squad for 2014. But, the Bulldogs gathered players from various other York County schools and here it is ready to keep a positive trend going. Sure, you can look at West York making the playoffs last year as a success, but that was only because six of the seven teams qualify and not so much because it deserved to be in them based on its record. They were quickly two losses and done, which was to be expected.
West York’s record was indicative of its scoring and defensive problems, where it could only muster 2.83 goals per game, while it gave up nearly three times as many goals per game (7.44). Much like with Dallastown in Tier 1, it will be hard for this team to trend in any direction other than up after last season. In order to do so, the Bulldogs must be better on defense, which they showed signs of in their season opener, when they only allowed three goals.
The team also showed signs of maturity in that victory, twice blowing one-goal leads in the third period, but responding instantly with go-ahead goals, one coming 31 seconds after Middletown tied it up 2-2 and then the other only six seconds after the Blue Raiders tied it up 3-3.
One game doesn’t make a season, but it’s at least an indication that perhaps West York did, in fact, improve during the offseason and should have a good chance to better its total of three wins from last year.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com.