East Xtra: With Kasper, Gateway hockey is spooking opponents

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The Gateway High School hockey team won its section title last season, but found itself with a 1-5 record after six games this season.

But before the Gators' seventh game of the season, the team welcomed back its top goal scorer from last season, Jon Kasper.

Gateway (4-8) lost its first two games with Kasper in the lineup to Hampton and Moon, but has since won three of four with Kasper as the catalyst.

"He adds a lot," Gateway coach Gene Perhac said. "He's a top-notch forward, probably one of the best in the league. His presence has brought a lot of confidence back to the team."

Kasper scored 16 goals for Gateway last season, helping lead the team to the playoffs. But he said he decided before this season, that due to a busy schedule, he was just going to play for his amateur team, the Pittsburgh Viper Stars.

Once the season started, however, he had second thoughts.

"I missed playing for my school and being a part of that team," Kasper said.

He approached Perhac about returning and the team welcomed him back.

He made his debut in the seventh game of the season against Hampton, scoring a goal and adding an assist in a 7-3 loss. It was a big improvement from when the two teams met in the season opener, when the Talbots won, 12-2.

In the next game, Class AA Section 1 leader Moon battled back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Gators, 3-2, in overtime. Kasper had an assist but did not score a goal.

He has scored in every game since.

Kasper had a combined three goals in two consecutive wins against Kiski, then found the back of the net four times in a 7-4 victory against West Allegheny. He also scored once in a 9-2 loss to Latrobe Monday.

He is already second on the team in goals with nine, trailing only the 11 Taylor Siwik has recorded.

"He has great speed, a good shot and he's good on the back check as well," Perhac said. "Other teams know when he is out on the ice.

"I think he would have gotten us two more wins if he were there all season."

The Gators need as many wins as they can get right now. Gateway entered the week tied for 10th in points in Class AA, which puts the team squarely on the playoff bubble.

Gateway does have three games remaining against the only two teams in Class AA without a point, Franklin Regional and Montour. But the Gators also have to play some of the better teams in the league -- Erie Cathedral Prep, Bishop Canevin and Pine-Richland.

The Gators' goal, as it was even before Kasper came back to the team, is to play in the postseason.

"His arrival hasn't changed anything really as far as what our goals are," Perhac said. "It just gives us more confidence that we can reach them."

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