After a year hiatus, the Deer Lakes varsity hockey team was ready to return to the ice in October, but there was one problem -- the Lancers didn't have a goaltender.
Deer Lakes' expected starting goaltender quit the team right before the season started, which forced Lancers coach Todd Luniewski to turn to veteran defenseman Lucas Gapsky.
"Lucas is my hero, man," Luniewski said. "He's one of the greatest young men I've ever met. I'll ask him where he wants to play and he tells me it doesn't matter where he wants to play. He'll play wherever I need him to."
Gapsky, a senior filled in admirably in goal for the first half of the season, but it created a void on Deer Lakes' blue line.
So Luniewski and some of the Lancer players started to badger sophomore Jonathan Lang if he wanted to play for Deer Lakes' hockey team.
"They just kept asking me and asking me," Lang said. "They said they wanted an underclassman so they'd also have a goaltender for next season. Finally, I just gave in."
So Lang hit the ice for practice for the first time in early January. He had never played ice hockey before, but was the leading scorer as a forward for his in-line hockey team. He also had experience in baseball, which has translated well to catching the puck.
"He was shaky down low at first, but he was very athletic and coordinated with the glove and blocker," Luniewski said. "If they shot it at his glove or blocker, he was going to stop it."
Lang made his first start against Bishop McCort (3-16) Jan. 21 and stopped 8 of 11 shots in an 11-3 win.
But Luniewski wanted to preserve Lang's confidence, so he put Gapsky in net against Quaker Valley and Kittanning, the two top scoring teams in Class A.
Lang was back on the ice in a 5-3 loss to Freeport, and then had the best outing of his career Feb. 11 against Westmont Hilltop. The Hilltoppers entered the game 10-5-1, but had trouble getting the puck past Lang all game.
The sophomore finished with 18 saves in a 2-1 upset victory.
"He played really well," Luniewski said. "Especially for someone who has been a goaltender for all of five weeks."
Lang is also enjoying himself so much that in his free time, he is practicing with the Deer Lakes' freshman team to get more experience.
"I really didn't know how much I would like it, but I'm really enjoying it so far," Lang said.
And with a full offseason to work on his technique, Luniewski thinks the sky is the limit for Lang.
"Within a year, he's going to be rock solid," said Luniewski. "He's going to turn into a great asset. I know he will."
Only a few open spots in the PIHL Penguins Cup remain.
In Class AAA, 11 of the 12 spots already have been clinched. Peters Township, Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair, Canon-McMillan, North Allegheny, Seneca Valley, State College, Norwin, Central Catholic, Shaler and Butler will play for the Penguins Cup.
The last spot will be taken by either Mt. Lebanon or Penn-Trafford. Heading into Thursday, the Blue Devils were three points ahead and both had three games left.
In Class AA, Moon, North Hills, Bishop Canevin, Chartiers Valley, Erie Cathedral Prep, Latrobe, Pine-Richland, Hampton and Plum have clinched nine of the 10 spots.
Kiski played Plum Thursday night and had to win to stay alive for the final playoff berth. If the Cavaliers lost or tied Thursday, Gateway will secure the final playoff berth. Entering Thursday, the Gators were six points ahead of the Cavaliers with two games remaining, while Kiski had three games left.
In Class A, Thomas Jefferson, Serra Catholic, Quaker Valley, Mars, Freeport, Kittanning, Deer Lakes and Westmont Hilltop have secured playoff berths. Bishop McCort played Thursday night against Freeport and needed to win or tie to stay alive in the playoff hunt. Otherwise, South Park and South Fayette clinched the final two spots.
Games to Watch
• Quaker Valley vs. Kittanning, 6:30 tonight at Outdoor North and 8:15 p.m. Thursday at Belmont Ice Arena
The Wildcats (12-6-1) will have two chances to prevent the Quakers (19-0-0 heading into Thursday) from finishing the season undefeated. The two teams met in last season's Class A Penguins Cup semifinals, which Quaker Valley won, 7-1.
• Bishop Canevin at Greater Latrobe, 9:15 p.m. Thursday, Kirk S. Nevin Arena
A possible Class AA Penguins Cup championship preview, the Crusaders (13-1-2) and Wildcats (14-2-0) will match up in a game that could determine the league's No. 1 playoff seed.mobilehome - hsother