South Xtra: As usual, Bethel Park defense rates among best

HIGH SCHOOL HOCKEY

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Bethel Park hockey coach Jim McVay said his team has led its classification in goals-against average 12 of the past 15 years.

If the Black Hawks continue to play as they have in the early part of this season, they will be near the top of the leaderboard in that category again.

Bethel Park (5-2-0) has given up 16 goals in seven games, an average of 2.3 goals per contest. After giving up seven goals to North Allegheny in a season-opening loss, the Black Hawks have allowed just nine goals in their past six games.

Only North Allegheny has a better goals-against average than Bethel Park in PIHL Class AAA. The Tigers have allowed just 1.6 goals per game.

"My philosophy is that we have six defensemen on the ice," McVay said. "If you aren't playing defense, you aren't playing."

Bethel Park is continuing its defensive dominance without two key pieces from last season's Penguins Cup winner.

Goaltender Alex Blum was 13-3 with a 1.69 goals-against average, which was the best in the league among goaltenders who played at least half their teams' games.

Defenseman Jacob Brown was the Post-Gazette Player of the Year last season in the PIHL and played nearly every minute of the Black Hawks' run to the league title.

Austin McGinty, who is 4-2 with a 2.17 goals-against average, has replaced Blum.

Meanwhile, the Black Hawks have tried to make up for the loss of Brown by playing more team defense.

"Jake was a great defenseman," McVay said. "Everyone has to play a little more defense."

Senior Austin Jameyson is the team's top defenseman this season. Derek Lesnak, who led the team in scoring as a sophomore last season, has even moved back to defense to try and help the squad.

"The team needed me to play defense," Lesnak said. "We have a lot of talented offensive players and needed someone back on defense, so as a leader I did what was best for the team."

Lesnak said the key to the team's defense is not allowing shots to get to McGinty and backup goaltender Zach Davis. The Black Hawks are giving up fewer than 22 shots per game.

"We try and block every shot," Lesnak said. "The other team can't score if they don't get shots. And if the other teams isn't scoring often, we're going to win a lot of games."

Bethel Park has done a lot of winning lately. Since starting last season 3-7-1, the Black Hawks are 20-3 over the second half of last season and the beginning of this one.

They currently are on a five-game winning streak, but Lesnak said the team has to match the work ethic of last season's squad if it wants to reach the same level of success.

"This year's team has a lot of talent, but we have to realize how hard we have to work to get to where we want to be, " Lesnak said. "We have to be in the best shape as possible by the playoffs."

That shouldn't be an issue, as McVay likes to have his players run and skate more than perhaps any other coach in the league.

"If I think they're tired on the ice, then I'll have them run and skate more," McVay said.

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