Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

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Returning all-stars bring leadership to Kennedy Catholic

Darrin Smith reaches for the puck for Kennedy Catholic. -- BRIAN MITCHELL

WARRENDALE, Pa. — Leadership and patience.

Two relatively simple words, but also the two words that Kennedy Catholic’s head coach Steve Covelli tied to the varsity team on Monday night. The team took on undefeated Moon at Baierl Ice Complex in Warrendale. They weren’t victorious, but Covelli was not phased by the result afterwards.

“The team played well, just didn’t beat the goalie, that’s all,” Covelli said Monday night. “They played a solid game, both teams played a good game. It was a good hockey game.”

While the end result may not have been what the team wanted, Covelli had more to say about the upcoming season itself.

In the 2016-17 season, Kennedy Catholic had five all-stars in defenseman Cameron Pyle, goalie Carsen Burkhart, and forwards Darrin Smith, Will Piacitelli and Max Hamilton. Out of those five players, only then-senior Piacitelli was lost. Last season, Piacitelli was the team leader in goals, assists and points. While the loss of him may be felt by the team, the presence of the other returning players like Pyle, Smith, Burkhart and Hamilton is felt even more. Hamilton, one of the seniors on the team, feels that the returning players are important.

“We have a lot of seniors this year, and juniors,” Hamilton said Monday night. “It’s good. Last year we were pretty successful. We went out in the first round of playoffs, but it’s a really good thing. Any team that gets a lot of players back, it’s good.”

It’s good from a talent perspective, but that’s sort of a given. Having four former all-stars come back for another season? No one would turn that chance down. Four may not seem like a huge number, but for a small team, it’s important. Of course, Kennedy Catholic isn’t the only team to have returning players this season..

“Other teams got better, too,” Covelli said. “They have returning talent. It’s a pretty even playing field.”

So why are the returning players so important? It isn’t just the talent that makes such an impact on the varsity squad. Covelli believes it’s a lot more than that.

“It’s leadership,” he said. “They have four leaders on the team. Just teaching the young kids how to move up, that’s what four leaders do for this team. Returning seniors are growing these young kids so that this high school sport gets a lot stronger.”

LOOKING FORWARD

While a lot of talk around Kennedy Catholic’s team is around their returning players, those players just want to look toward this season and what they can accomplish. Hamilton was one of the all-stars from the 2016-17 season. The forward, who is a senior this year, had some thoughts on his play this season versus last season.

“This year, I’ve been struggling a little more than last year, but I just need to come out with speed.” Hamilton said. “We lost a senior last year [Piacitelli], and he was on my line. He really worked well with us. This year, I just gotta rely on myself more.”

Putting his own personal play aside, Hamilton feels that the defense has been one of the team’s strengths.

“We have young defensemen, two seniors but the rest are underclassmen,” he said. “They’re really strong, and have been on the team ever since we’ve been established.”

Burkhart, a junior goalie, is perhaps the brightest spot for the young team. Both Covelli and Hamilton had nothing but positives to say about the young goalie.

“Burkhart is very good,” Hamilton said. “He’s young, too, but next year he’ll be a senior. Hopefully he’ll make all-stars and make a big impact.”

Covelli practically echoed this statement.

“Burkhart is fantastic,” Covelli said. “He’s only a junior, so he’ll only get stronger. He’s calm, (and) never gets rattled. He has a calming effect.”

So what does that mean for Kennedy Catholic? The team currently has a 1-2-1 record and Monday night game against undefeated Moon really could have ended up going either way. A late-third-period surge from KC’s power-play group very well could have tied things up. A few more huge saves from Burkhart could have have led to a different end result. But Covelli was pleased with the team’s overall play and the outlook for the rest of the season.

“We stand a good chance,” he said. “It’s a pretty even division right now. I feel that the top six teams, anybody can beat anybody.”

The next game for Kennedy Catholic is Thursday at Bradys Run Park Ice Arena in Beaver Falls, Pa., when they will face off against Central Valley.

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