In January, Greater Latrobe coach John Winebrenner decided to switch his high school hockey team's system.
Instead of playing a more defensive game, he wanted his team to be on the attack.
"He wanted us to use our speed and play more aggressively," senior forward Josh Singley said. "The last few years, we've been more of a defensive team. But he thought Shane [Brudnok] was good enough in goal for us to be aggressive and use the forecheck."
It was a risky move, because Latrobe was already one of the top teams in Class AA at the time. But it turned out to be brilliant, as the Wildcats played their best at the end of the season on their way to a fourth state championship in six years.
After beating Pine-Richland, 5-0, in the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup championship game on March 20, Latrobe (20-3) outshot Parkland, 41-9, in a 4-1 victory Saturday in the state title game played at the Ice Works arena in Aston, Delaware County.
"We put in the system in January and they bought in and believed we could dominate in the offensive zone so we didn't have to play as much defense," Winebrenner said.
"It's all about confidence and we stuck to it and just got better and better."
Although it was the fourth state title for the Wildcats since 2008, it was the first for Winebrenner, who completed his first season as Latrobe's head coach.
"It was fantastic," he said. "Just a great feeling."
While it was the first time Winebrenner got to hoist the state championship cup, three of his players were doing it for a second time in their high school careers.
Singley, Brudnok and defenseman Robert Vasinko were freshmen when the Wildcats won the last of three consecutive state championships in 2010.
"This one is a lot better because it's my last game at Latrobe," Singley said. "This time, I know much better how hard we had to work and what it takes to get it done than I did freshman year."
All three seniors played vital roles on this season's team.
Singley led the team in points with 58; Brudnok led all of Class AA in wins, goals-against average, shutouts and save percentage; and Vasinko added 11 points to his stellar play on the blue line.
All three were selected as PIHL all-stars as well.
It will be tough for Latrobe to replace all three, but the Wildcats will have a lot of talent coming back, nonetheless.
Freshman Dalton Hunter scored 19 goals during the regular season, tied for second on the team. Then in the playoffs, he led all Wildcats with six goals and tied for the team lead in points with 7.
He had two goals in both the Penguins Cup and state championship games.
"Dalton has a bright future in the game," Winebrenner said. "We knew he'd have an impact. It took him a few months to get adjusted to the varsity level, but once he adjusted, he dominated like we thought he could."
Another freshman, Brendan Johns, finished third on the team during the regular season with 33 points and then added four points in the playoff run.
Adam Ferguson, who was second on the team with 43 points during the regular season, and Christopher Johnson, who tied Singley and Hunter for the team lead with seven points in the postseason, also will return. They are both juniors.
The returning talent has Winebrenner already looking ahead to next season.
"We're looking forward to trying to repeat," Winebrenner said.
First Published March 28, 2013 4:00 AM