When John Winebrenner took over the job as Latrobe's head hockey coach, he knew he was getting a talented goaltender in Shane Brudnok.
But after talking with Brudnok before the start of the season, the first-year Wildcats' coach came away impressed with his senior netminder's "tunnel vision."
"He became really focused," Winebrenner said. "We got together in September and he knew then what he had to do this season to reach his goals. Then he put in the work."
Brudnok was dominant from October through March, leading PIHL Class AA in wins (19), save percentage (.927), goals-against average (1.55) and shutouts (5) in leading a Latrobe squad that had only three seniors on the roster to a state championship.
For those accomplishments, he has been named the Post-Gazette's high school hockey player of the year.
"His presence in net gave everyone else on the team confidence," Winebrenner said.
Brudnok was a four-year starter, a three-time all-star and two-time state champion, as the Wildcats also won the championship in his freshman season.
But Brudnok, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder, saved his best for last, setting career bests this season in wins, goals-against average and save percentage.
"I'd have to say I'm just more experienced," Brudnok said. "As I've aged, I've become more of a man.
"I've also improved my rebound control. I felt like my chest was a black hole this season."
Virtually every shot thrown at Brudnok this postseason disappeared into that "black hole."
He stopped 71 of 73 shots in postseason wins against Hampton, Chartiers Valley and Pine-Richland to help the Wildcats win the Class AA Penguins Cup title.
"[Brudnok] played well all year," said Pine-Richland coach Mike Bagnato, following his team's 5-0 loss to the Wildcats in the Penguins Cup final. "There's a reason why he's the top goaltender in the league."
Parkland was able to score a goal on Brudnok to take a 1-0 lead in the Class AA state championship game, but Brudnok pitched a shutout over the final 27:24 as the Wildcats rallied for a 4-1 victory.
"He took it to another level because he knew the ultimate goal was the state championship," Winebrenner said. "When you get in the playoffs, there's no tomorrow, so he knew he needed to step up his game to reach his goal."
Joe Griffin, North Allegheny
F • Sr. • 5-10 • 160
Griffin led the Tigers in goals (19) during the regular season, despite missing most of February with a rib injury. He returned right before the playoffs and played his best hockey at the end of the season, scoring eight of North Allegheny's 12 goals in the last three postseason games to help the Tigers win the Class AAA Penguins Cup and state titles.
Dillon Kessy, Pine-Richland
F • Sr. • 6-2 • 175
During the regular season, Kessy led the Rams and finished third in PIHL Class AA with 57 points (29 goals, 28 assists) to help Pine-Richland win the Class AA Section 4 title. In the playoffs, Kessy had two goals in three games, including the overtime game-winner against top-seeded Bishop Canevin to send the Rams to the Class AA Penguins Cup championship game.
Harry Kramer, North Allegheny
D • Sr. • 6-2 • 170
Kramer missed the first two months of the season with a broken collarbone but was still picked for the PIHL All-Star Game by the Class AAA coaches. After he returned in January, the Tigers allowed 1.8 goals per game, including just six in four postseason games on the way to winning a state title. He also is skilled offensively, acting as the quarterback for the power play. Including the postseason, he had four goals and nine assists in 17 games.
Dan Merz, Norwin
F • Sr. • 6-1 • 190
Merz finished second in PIHL Class AAA in goals (40) and third in points (66) in the regular season. He scored at least two goals in 15 of Norwin's 22 games. He was also dangerous on special teams, scoring six power-play goals and four shorthanded goals. The Knights finished the regular season with an 11-10 record and in second place in Class AAA Section 3.
Trevor Recktenwald, Peters Township
F • Sr. • 6-2 • 210
Recktenwald finished second in the regular season in PIHL Class AAA with 67 points (28 goals, 37 assists) and led the classification in points per game (3.72) to help lead a young Indians team to a runner-up finish in the Class AAA Penguins Cup tournament. Including the postseason, he scored at least two points in 18 of the 21 games he played this season and scored seven points on three different occasions.