WHITE TWP., Pa. — At the beginning of the season, Indiana head coach Jordan Haines said he wanted his team to be balanced throughout the lineup. With the emergence of two freshman forwards, his team is now building momentum into the first round of the Single-A Penguins Cup Playoffs.
Daniel Williams and Zachary Eisenhower, who have played hockey together long before joining Indiana, have been driving the Indians offensively. In Indiana’s opening round playoff game, a play-in round against Kiski Area, the two freshman combined for five points in a 5-4 win. Williams scored two goals, which included the game-winning goal. Eisenhower chipped in with a goal and assist of his own.
Throughout the regular season, the two have played a significant role with #5 seed Indiana. Eisenhower recorded 17 goals and 29 points in 20 games this season, which ranked third on the team in scoring. Williams finished the season fourth in points, with nine goals and 23 points in only 18 games.
Playing a substantial role as a freshman on a varsity team is already a major accomplishment. But to log major minutes on a team like Indiana, who is a competitor for the Penguins nearly every season, is even more of an accomplishment. For both players, however, contributing at such a young age is just “part of the job” for them.
“We just go out there and try to win,” Williams said. “We have a great leadership group that is helping us along the way.”
Indiana suffered a major blow this offseason due to the graduation of one its most gifted scorers. Pat O’Neal, who scored 37 goals and recorded 76 points in only 19 games for Indiana last season, made the team an offensive powerhouse. Losing a player with the scoring ability that O’Neal had is difficult to replace, but with the emergence of young talent, Haines said he has confidence in his team’s ability to compete.
“We have a lot of young players that have stepped up to the plate,” Haines said. “They give us a chance to compete.”
Last season, Indiana came so close to a championship only to fall short in the final game. At the Single-A Penguins Cup Championship last season, Indiana fell at the hands of the Franklin Regional Panthers. This season, the team still has belief it can claim the Penguins Cup.
“We have to continue working hard,” Eisenhower said. “Everybody has to give it their all.”
After dropping its first game of the season to Meadville, Indiana flourished for most of the regular season. The team won 14 of its first 17 games and seemed to be surging into the playoffs. But things quickly changed, and to finish the season, Indiana lost two of its last three games.
In its outing against Kiski, Indiana seemed to have gained momentum back. But Haines said his team needs to stay focused ahead of it next playoff matchup. Against Kiski, Indiana served 10 penalty minutes. The team was shorthanded on five different occasions and was also guilty for taking down Kiski forward James Ayers during a breakaway. Ayers was awarded a penalty shot, which he converted on.
“We have a lot of younger players on this team,” Haines said. “Overall, we need to stop taking so many penalties. You can’t win when you’re always down a man.”
Although Kiski was unable to convert on any of its power play opportunities, Haines said his team “has to stay disciplined” if it hopes to continue to win.
“This group has to stay focused,” Haines said.
With its win over #12 Kiski, Indiana will now travel to face #4 seed West Allegheny. The two teams met earlier this season, with Indiana overpowering West Allegheny for a 5-2 win on Nov. 6. The game will be the first for West Allegheny this season, who bypassed the play-in round thanks to its 16-win season.
Haines said his team won’t change much heading into its matchup against West Allegheny, adding that the team needs to “keep at it.”
“We know what it’s going to take to beat them,” Haines said. “We have to keep doing what we’re doing.”
#5 seed Indiana will travel to the Baierl Ice Complex on Thursday to face #4 seed West Allegheny. The puck drops at 9 p.m.
The West Allegheny-Indiana matchup will be the final of four games taking place in the Single-A Varsity Playoffs.
The first round opens with #3 seed Thomas Jefferson hosting #6 seed South Fayette.
Still undefeated Bishop McCort hosts #8 seed Sewickley Academy at the 1st Summit Bank Arena. Sewickley advanced after a 6-4 win over Fox Chapel on Monday.
#7 seed Westmont Hilltop travels to face #2 Meadville, who will play its first playoff game in Single-A after its D2 Championship season last year. Westmont advanced to the first round after its thrilling 4-3 win over South Park on Monday.