In an interesting scheduling quirk, the Upper St. Clair hockey team has more than a month in between its third and fourth games of the 2012-13 season.
But the layoff couldn't have come at a better time for the Panthers.
Upper St. Clair sophomore forward Austin Cassidy, who leads the team with six goals and two assists, sustained a separated shoulder in an amateur game two days after the Panthers' third game of the season, a 4-0 loss to North Allegheny on Nov. 8.
"The layoff hasn't been tough for me at all," Cassidy said. "It's really helped me."
After taking a few weeks off, Cassidy is skating once again with the team. He hasn't been cleared for contact yet and would have missed tonight's game against Canon-McMillan, but it was canceled.
He believes he'll be back for the team's next scheduled contest against Norwin next Thursday and can't wait to get back to playing.
"It's been depressing [sitting out for so long], but it's helped me remember how much I love the game," Cassidy said.
The Panthers (2-1) will need Cassidy's scoring if they are to make a run at the Penguins Cup title. He is the team's leading returning scorer after netting 17 goals and adding 15 assists in the 2011-12 season as a freshman.
Then he started this season with back-to-back hat tricks against Peters Township and McDowell before North Allegheny shut out USC.
"He's very good at using his skill set," Panthers first-year coach Denis Kirstein said. "He skates well and understands the game. He is always in position to score goals and once he gets one-on-one with the goaltender, he usually lights the lamp."
But Cassidy knows that to reach his ultimate goals of winning the Penguins Cup and state championships, he and the team will have to play just as well on the defensive end.
The team has one of the best goaltenders in the PIHL in Michael Ambrose, who is 2-1 with two shutouts and a .938 save percentage this season. But he can't do it all by himself on that end of the ice.
"We need to be more defensively sound," Cassidy said. "We're a little scattered defensively and we're not helping our great goaltender, Michael Ambrose, enough. If we can get a little better defensively, we'll be tough to beat down the stretch."
Ambrose was the starting goaltender for the Panthers when they won the Penguins Cup and state championship in 2011. Cassidy was in eighth grade then, so he wasn't a part of the team.
He did, however, attend all the team's games that season and witnessing the championship has motivated him to get one of his own.
"I went to every game that season, saw the highs and lows and eventually the championship," Cassidy said. "It really does have an impact on me. I want to have the same success they had.
"It's definitely a motivating factor."hsother