North Allegheny junior goaltender Bradford Thornburgh is known as a jokester.
In a game earlier this season against Penn-Trafford, Thornburgh got the day off and freshman Joe Hubert replaced him in net. Prior to the game, Thornburgh told Hubert that Tigers coach Jim Black didn't want any icing calls, so he needed to play every puck. This caused Hubert to chase everything down, including racing over and nearly crashing into the boards to get to a puck.
Black said he couldn't understand what was going on.
"I was yelling, 'What is [Joe] doing? The puck was all the way over there,'" Black said. "But I could see that Bradford was kind of staying away from the discussion. I kind of knew then."
Thornburgh said he was trying to keep the team loose.
"You want to be serious when you have to be, but you want to keep things fun and be able to loosen up the team, too," Thornburgh said.
The Tigers prevailed easily that day against the Warriors, 12-0.
Thornburgh is tied with Bethel Park's Austin McGinty and Peters Township's Brian Baker for the Class AAA lead in wins (9), and among goaltenders who have played at least four games, he is first in goals-against average (1.63) and save percentage (.926).
A lot of his success has to do with his demeanor.
"I think he's calm," Black said. "He has a very good disposition back there. He's very confident and doesn't get nervous. The guys want to work hard for Bradford."
Thornburgh faced an uphill battle to win the starting goaltender job this season. Two seniors, Tyler Kuhn and Colin Smeresky, were poised to take over the staring goaltending job that Matthew Goda held for the previous few seasons. Kuhn was Goda's top backup last season.
But Black opened the competition in the preseason, and Thornburgh took advantage of the opportunity.
In the St. Margaret's Fall Faceoff preseason tournament, Thornburgh, Kuhn and Smeresky all got one start in the preliminary round.
Then Thornburgh got the start in a semifinal matchup against Latrobe, stopping 17-of-18 shots in a 4-1 win. His success led Black to give him another start in the championship game against Canon-McMillan. Thornburgh again got the win, stopping 19-of-21 shots in a 4-2 victory.
With Thornburgh leading the way, North Allegheny has allowed the fewest goals in Class AAA. The Tigers have given up just 20 goals in 14 games, much better than the 47-in-22 pace they had last season when they finished third in the classification in goals against with Goda in goal.
"Some of it comes from our philosophy," Black said. "We are a puck-possession team and when you control the puck, they can't score as much. And we have some great defensemen back there, too."
As Black said, the Tigers are full of quality defenseman in front of Thornburgh, including Shawn Baird, Daniel Bostedo and Harry Kramer, who is back after missing the first half of the season with a broken collarbone.
"I give [the defense] almost all the credit," Thornburgh said. "They do a great job and make it easier for me."
And in return, Thornburgh eases the mood of the team. He said he still has a few surprises for his teammates that he plans to use later this season.
"I still have a few tricks up my sleeve," Thornburgh said. "I'll have to pull them out at practice later in the season."