East Xtra: Walters, Plum drive for hockey playoffs

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As a junior during the 2011-12 season, Plum's Andrew Walters was second in PIHL Class AA in goals with 36.

But this season, Walters is ninth in the league in goals scored (entering Tuesday) and second on his own team.

It's not because he has lost his scoring touch -- he still has found the back of the net 17 times. No, it's just that the Mustangs needed Walters to fill more roles and he has more than obliged.

Walters has already passed last season's assist total (18 to 15), has become one of the team's better defensive forwards, according to Plum coach Dave Stonebraker, and is the team's leader.

"I think he is playing the best hockey he has played in the few years that I've coached him," Stonebraker said. "He's just a complete player and leader. We've struggled as a team, but I couldn't be more proud of the way he has played."

When Walters scored 36 goals last season, Plum didn't have any other player with more than 15.

But this season, with the emergence of Joe Randazzo, Walters has become more of a distributor. Randazzo has scored 25 goals, which was tied for second in Class AA entering Tuesday's action, and Walters assisted on 11 of his goals. The Mustangs are 5-8-1 and in third place in Class AA Section 4.

"I just filled the role that needed to be filled," Walters said. "Randazzo has a good shot and is good at putting the puck in the net. I know when I get him the puck, he can score."

Stonebraker said the difference with Walters this season is his maturity. In the past, when the team has been down, Walters may have gotten frustrated.

The Mustangs have struggled this season, winning just five of their 14 games. But instead of getting frustrated, Walters has tried to find a way to get his team back in the game.

"He's not going to stop; he's not going to slow down," Stonebraker said. "When he was a young player, he may have gotten frustrated. Now, he's looking for opportunities to win and will do whatever it takes.

"He has a drive you can't coach."

Stonebraker said Walters definitely has the ability to play at the next level. Walters will attend Pitt next season to study engineering and said he likely will try to play for the Panthers club team.

But first, he will try to get Plum into the playoffs. The Mustangs entered the week in 10th place in Class AA, with the top 10 teams qualifying for the Penguins Cup. They have a big game coming up Monday against Gateway, which started the week just one point behind the Mustangs. Plum will also face another team on its heels, Kiski Area, on Feb. 21.

With the playoffs on the line in these last few weeks of the season, Stonebraker expects Walters to want to be on the ice as much as he can.

"He wants to be out there when it matters," Stonebraker said. "If something goes wrong, he'd rather be on the ice and take responsibility than be on the bench. He wants to be the one that steps up for his team."

In whatever role is needed.



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