NEVILLE TWP., Pa. — In 18 games in the 2016-17 season, West Allegheny forward Kellen Almady scored six goals.
In the PIHL Single-A All-Star game on Sunday at RMU Island Sports Center, Almady scored half as many as he had all last season, leading the Blue Team with a hat trick.
That’s been the way things have gone for Almady this season, as the sophomore has made a dramatic improvement from his first year with the Indians. Through 18 games this season, as many as he played in all of last year, Almady has 23 goals to pace West Allegheny and also has 19 assists for 42 points.
“It’s definitely just keeping my feet moving and trying to open ice to give my guys the best passing lanes possible to get the puck to me,” Almady said. “Working the cycle down low has created a lot of room for me and my linemates.”
That’s also the way things have gone for the Indians this season, and it’s not just Almady that’s shown improvement. Under then first-year head coach Brian Boehm, West Allegheny went 2-17 and finished in last place in the Double-A classification. Dropped down a level, the Indians have thrived, and they’ve done so with many of the same players.
Almady, Jacob Gyergo (45 points), Shane Nolan (23 points) defenseman Nicholas Bandi (33 points) and goaltender Jeremiah Brosovic (9-2) are all holdovers from last season’s last-place squad. Now, the Indians are 15-3 and are in second place in the PIHL’s Double-A classification.
“It’s a lot better than last year, obviously,” Almady said. “We didn’t have that great of a season last year, but this year, it’s been a lot better with all of the guys improving over the summer and putting in the work. It’s shown so far.
The Indians players at the All-Star Game were able to show off a bit, with Almady and Gyergo playing together and combining for seven points. If any of the Indians’ success this season has been based on taking some teams by surprise, it’s safe to say that performance eliminated any doubt that West Allegheny is for real.
“Our coach, Brian Boehm, always said, ‘No one is going to look at you guys like a great team. Everyone’s going to look down on you just based on the team we had last year,’” Almady said. “I’m pretty sure we’ve turned some heads and definitely surprised some people so far this year, but we’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us.”
The top of the table in Single-A is a crowded one, with five teams holding three or fewer losses, including the 2016-17 runner-up Indiana and last year’s PIHL Division 2 champs, Meadville. Those two teams account for two of West Allegheny’s three losses, a 5-0 shutout by the Bulldogs on Jan. 15 and a 5-2 loss to Indiana on Nov. 15. That’s focused the efforts of the Indians down the stretch run of the season.
“We’re just working every practice, every game to get better and I think we’ll still be able to take some of those teams that we lost to by surprise come playoff time,” Almady said.
West Allegheny will return to the ice when they visit Beaver on Thursday for a 6:45 p.m. faceoff.