After losing 11 of its first 14 games, the Thomas Jefferson High School hockey team finished last season by winning four of their final seven games, including a victory in the first round of the Class A Penguins Cup playoffs against South Fayette.
The Jaguars started this season 6-2 and sit as the top team in the Class A Section 1 standings at 8-5.
"Our best players have stepped up early on this season," Jaguars coach Bill Crousey said. "Since the start of the season, Zach [Uhlyar], Matt [Bowers] and Tommy [Kimmick] have been playing really well.c
"Last season's team finished well, but this team has started there and is getting better."
The offense, led by Uhlyar, Bowers and Kimmick, has led the way. These Jaguars have scored 81 goals through 13 games.
Last season, the team scored 85 in 19 games.
Uhlyar's health has been a big reason the team is scoring at a better rate.
He missed half of last season with a broken wrist, finishing with 20 points in 11 games. This season, the junior forward has 42 points in his first 13 games. He was tied for third in Class A at the start of the week.
He also has stepped up as a leader.
"Zach was our choice of captain for a reason, and he has done everything to prove that it was the right choice," Crousey said.
"He is really leading the team and is a good offensive player."
Kimmick has become one of the top goal-scorers in the league as a sophomore, scoring 20 through 13 games. Bowers has 12 goals and 19 points.
Two other sophomores, Brady Parkinson and Ryan Beveridge, have chipped in a combined 17 points.
"We know we can score," Uhlyar said. "We have to focus on defense."
Although the Jaguars are second behind Quaker Valley in goals scored in Class A, they are ranked seventh among 12 teams in goals allowed.
Part of the problem is how many shots the Jaguars have allowed. Goaltender Nick Ripepi had faced at least 27 shots in nine of his first 12 starts, seeing a season-high 69 from undefeated Quaker Valley.
But the game against the Quakers may have been his best this season. He stopped 64 of those shots in a 5-0 loss, and stopped 45 of 47 shots in the first two periods to keep his team in the game.
"He's really been playing well," Uhlyar said. "He has improved a lot from last season.
"He has kept us in games when we haven't been scoring as much. He has been standing on his head, and we thank him for that."
Ripepi is ranked fifth in Class A in saves. Of the top eight leaders in the saves category at the start of this week, Ripepi's .858 save percentage was first.
Ripepi and the Jaguars will be tested in the immediate future as five of their next six opponents sport winning records.
Uhlyar said the goal is to get into the playoffs and see what happens.
"We surprised ourselves last year with the run we made in the playoffs," Uhlyar said. "This year, we are just trying to get there and go further."