Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

PIHL

Brought together by merger, ‘Weagles’ become family in Division 2

Michael Vasko moves the puck through the defensive zone for the 'Weagles' on Jan. 22. -- BRIAN MITCHELL

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — Sometimes, it’s not always about the name or logo on the sweater, but the meaning behind it.

When the 2017-18 season began, Serra Catholic and Elizabeth Forward’s ice hockey clubs made a choice to combine and become one, settling into Division 2 under the Elizabeth Forward name. Supporters from both sides decided that the process of melding the two clubs was going so well that they needed to come up with a new, universal name.

They settled on a clever one that combined the previous names of Eagles and Warriors. The new squad was christened the SerraForward Weagles.

“We have a big student section and a lot of support from EF and Serra, they came up with it,” captain Pat Hickey explained. “We have Serra, a team that has had success in the past, and EF who has been successful in the past two years. It would not be fair to call someone Warriors or Eagles so we just combined them.”

The official twitter handle for the team reflects the change (@weaglesnest), as do the casual references to the team on the ice. Officially to the PIHL, they are the Elizabeth-Forward Warriors. Head coach Richard Hickey noticed the bonding at a time when it was most critical: the first few practices on the ice together.

“It was just a group of kids that during the fourth or fifth practice ,they decided to come up with a name on their own to kind of pull everyone together and make one family.” he said. “Instead of two different schools, we have one hockey team.”

FIGHTING FLYERS

Co-operatives occur on a normal basis in the PIHL, as schools with smaller enrollments and available players have a tough time fielding varsity teams on their own. The Weagles are far from unique in that regard. Just this offseason, Carrick accepted Bishop Canevin’s roster and Moon added Our Lady of Sacred Heart players.

Among other reasons, PIHL’s Division 2 was created to allow these schools an opportunity to compete against one another. In the case of Serra and Elizabeth-Forward, while the interest of playing was enough for each school to send equal participants to the ice, the merger created another positive return.

Matthew Ulishney with Serra in 2016-17

“We had a lot of returning players, so that helped us unify the team.” Matthew Ulishney said. “A lot of us already knew each other. I think it is better playing together now because last year Serra only had 12, 13 kids, and sometimes only 10 kids at a game. Coming together really helped us out because we have more bodies, we’re less fatigued, less tired.”

Proximity of schools always comes into play when deciding to merge, and sharing the Rostraver Ice Gardens as a home rink allowed the players to be familiar with each other.

“It was a unique situation,” Pat Hickey said. “I played with Serra Middle School with all of these guys. We went far back then, we played amateurs and when we got together, me being the captain and knowing the other kids helped Elizabeth Forward bond with Serra and we became the Weagles.”

Weagles forward Zachary Zapata on a breakaway in the 2018 PIHL All-Star Game. — BRIAN MITCHELL

MINOR TURBULENCE

The 2016-17 season saw both Serra Catholic and Elizabeth Forward field teams with moderate success. The Eagles finished the season in Single-A with a record of 8-9-1, and the Warriors 5-14-2 while competing in Division 2.

The part of a merger that the casual fan and supporter doesn’t see is always the toughest. When the two teams take the ice for the first time together after years of playing their own systems, there is a period of adjustment for everyone. Players could be out of sync, or even worse, incompatible.

“When you bring the newer kids in with the same team, it’s giving them time to be on the ice together, practice outside the game of hockey and definitely during the game,” Richard Hickey said. “They kind of learn each others traits, where their going to be, what kind of personality and what kind of speed. It all comes within time, time on the ice and that gets developed.”

When it all boils down to whats important, it comes down to the fundamentals.

“When you get two different teams that come together, every coach has their own method on how to reach kids, how to teach kids,” Hickey said. “The basic game of hockey is the same, but sometimes you have different play setups, different power plays, different penalty kills. So, you get a couple groups of kids who were taught semi- the same but different in a lot of ways. It’s the fundamentals of hockey, so it comes together rather quickly.”

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