Plum's hockey team lost 10 seniors from last season's Class AA Penguins Cup quarterfinalist, including PIHL All-Star Andrew Walters, who tallied 98 points the previous two seasons.
But despite the heavy attrition, the Mustangs may be better in 2013-14.
Plum (3-0) won its first two games of the season against two section champions from a year ago, Moon Area and Greater Latrobe. The Wildcats are the defending Penguins Cup and state champions.
The Mustangs added a convincing 9-1 pasting of Franklin Regional Monday. They are scheduled to play again at 8:30 tonight against Cathedral Prep of Erie at the Pittsburgh Ice Connection in New Kensington.
"Andrew was a leader on the ice in terms of points," Plum's third-year coach Dave Stonebraker said. "He was also just as important in the locker room, as was Jordan [Gable] and those other seniors. They were big losses.
"But it's a credit to how we're not just trying to build a team, but a program. It starts with varsity, but it's also the JV and our younger teams. We're focusing on style of play and skill development. We have a long way to go, but we're working every year and every week to get better and our younger players are stepping up."
The Mustangs have relied on four freshmen to log important minutes in the early part of the season, and they have all contributed. Forwards Dillon Joyce and Nolan Puhala have combined to score six points in three games, while Ryan Loebig has played solid defense on the blue line. Anthony Borriello is normally a defenseman, but he moved up to forward when Plum was shorthanded against Latrobe and scored a power-play goal.
"I told them after the first game that anyone watching who didn't know our players wouldn't be able to tell the younger guys from the experienced ones, other than by size," Stonebraker said. "They have so much poise and confidence."
Joyce has impressed the coaching staff so much that's he playing on the Mustangs' top line with Joey Randazzo and David Stonebraker, the coach's son. Coach Stonebraker said Joyce's ability to create space for Plum's top two offensive players has made a big difference.
"That's all they need, because Joey and David can put the puck in from anywhere in the offensive zone," coach Stonebraker said. "They're great skaters, have great hands and great shots. I'm sure other coaches are trying to figure out ways to stop them, and it's a difficult task."
Moon and Latrobe weren't able to do it, as the duo combined for 10 of the team's 12 goals in the first two contests.
Stonebraker and Randazzo share the team scoring lead with 13 points each. Stonebraker leads in goals with eight and Randazzo is just behind with seven,
Randazzo is one of just two seniors on the team, the other being defenseman Zachary Kuhn. Kuhn, along with two-year starter Colin Chaffey, anchors a talented but inexperienced blue line for the Mustangs.
Dave Stonebraker said Kuhn's presence has been a difference so far this season.
"I really think in the future our defense will be a strength because of the talent back there," Stonebraker said. "They're just so young, but Zach is a natural leader and also a solid hockey player. His calmness has really been needed."
The Mustangs are also inexperienced in the net. Taylor Cestra, one of the few females to play in the league in recent years, won 20 games over the past two regular seasons for Plum, but she graduated last spring.
Cestra's backup last season, junior James Borriello, started the team's first game this season and stopped 18 of 20 shots in a 6-2 win against Moon. Borriello was back in net against Franklin Regional and turned away 13 of 14 shots.
But Borriello wasn't available for the team's game against Latrobe, so Plum called up its junior varsity goaltender, sophomore Teddy Townsend. He stopped 24 shots in the 6-3 win against the Wildcats.
"It was [Townsend's] very first [varsity] start and he did a tremendous job," Dave Stonebraker said. "He made three excellent saves in the first period that kept us in the game. They were critical because we have such a young team and they need to believe."
If the young Mustangs continue to beat the best of the best in Class AA, they'll have no choice but to believe.