North Xtra: Hockey season enjoyable for Pine-Richland

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Mike Bagnato has coached hockey for nearly 30 years and coached all three of his sons, Geoffrey, Jared and Brendan, for much of their amateur careers.

Up until 2010, Bagnato had stayed away from the high school coaching ranks, watching from the stands as Geoffrey and Jared won Penguins Cup and state titles in 2006 and 2007 with Pine-Richland.

But prior to Brendan's sophomore season less than three years ago, Mike Bagnato was asked to be coach of the Rams' varsity squad.

He wasn't sure if it was the right move, and wanted to check with Brendan first before making a final decision.

Brendan was hesitant at first, too.

"At first, I was a little skeptical," Brendan said. "I took a few days to think about it and I came around to the idea. I'm used to him coaching me and I've always enjoyed it."

Now, it's Brendan's senior year and he and his father are trying to get the Rams back to their title-winning ways.

Pine-Richland is 8-2 and leads Section 4-AA by three points ahead of Hampton.

"As far as the entire team, I think this is the best one since I've been here," Brendan said. "My sophomore season, we had some really good players in Julian Rizza and Ryan Hanahan, but this team is much deeper."

The 2010-11 and 2011-12 Rams each had eight players finish the season with at least 10 points. With nine games to play this season, Pine-Richland already has six players who have reached double digits in points, with another three players within two points of the mark.

Having so many productive players has allowed the Rams to play a four-line system this season. That has been especially important with the PIHL's move from 15 to 17-minute periods this season.

"We're playing 18 kids and with 17-minute periods, that's been very big for us," Mike Bagnato said. "The overall talent level is as good as we've had. In the past, I had to worry about matching our best lines with the other team's. Now, I don't have to worry about that as much. They have to adjust more to us."

Opposing teams have yet to figure out how to handle Rams' senior Zach Richey and junior Dillon Kessy. Entering the week, Richey was tied for the Class AA lead with 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists), while Kessy was fourth in points (29) and first in assists (19).

"It's been a team effort, but it definitely is nice to have Zach and Dillon out there scoring the way they are," Mike Bagnato said.

Even the Rams' blue-liners are helping out with the scoring, as Kyle Cunningham and Nicholas Jenkins have combined for 19 points.

They have also combined with Michael Oakes and Chad Rarig to help out Bagnato in net, too.

"The defense has been great," Brendan Bagnato said. "I couldn't do it without them."

Entering the week, Bagnato led all goaltenders in Class AA in wins, and among goaltenders that have played at least four games, he was third in goals-against average and sixth in save percentage.

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