North Xtra: Senior forward out to lead NA hockey team back to top

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North Allegheny coach Jim Black looked at the Tigers first five games of this season and said to himself, "We could be 0-5."

But the Tigers managed to get through games against Canon-McMillan, Peters Township, Pine-Richland, Butler and Bethel Park with a 3-2 record, and senior Marty Hubert is largely to thank.

Hubert scored seven of the team's 16 goals in the first five games while also contributing on defense and being a leader on the ice.

"He's a more responsible player this season," Black said. "In the past, he was a care-free player. He was smart, but took risks that can cause a coach to go nuts. But he's not doing that now."

Hubert's role was also much different in the past.

Playing on a talented, senior-laden North Allegheny team last season that won the Class AAA Penguins Cup and state championships, Hubert was counted on to do the little things.

"My role was to get the puck to our skill guys and go to the net," Hubert said.

Hubert's biggest play of last season came doing exactly that, as he flew into the offensive zone, dropped a pass back to Cody Black and then attacked the net to screen the goaltender as Black fired the puck into the net for a 2-1 overtime victory against Canon-McMillan in the Penguins Cup quarterfinals.

Three wins later, Hubert was lifting the state championship trophy with the rest of his teammates. Now as a senior, he wants to lift it again. And he knows that to repeat, he's going to have to be the one to lead the Tigers there.

"I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself this year," Hubert said. "I'm the only returning senior forward. I've taken it upon myself to teach my teammates how to play varsity hockey."

Hubert has carried the load for a young Tigers' team. North Allegheny lost its top five scorers from last season, with Hubert the top returning offensive threat after scoring seven goals and six assists during the 2012-13 regular season.

It took Hubert, who was named the team's captain last week, only five games to reach his seven-goal total from last season. He had two goals in a season-opening victory against the Big Macs and a hat trick in a 4-0 win against Butler.

The impressive part about the Butler game was that Hubert played most of the game on defense against the Tornado's top offensive pairing, yet still scored two power-play goals and one even-strength goal.

"He's so good handling the puck and making breakout passes," Black said. "On any given night, he could be our best offensive forward or our best offensive defenseman."

Hubert also spent the majority of the time against Bethel Park last week on defense because the Tigers were short a player on their blue line. Again, Hubert still managed to score on special teams, this time netting a short-handed goal in the Black Hawks' 4-1 win.

Hubert said switching between forward and defense has been difficult at times, but he's managed to catch on to how to play on the blue line pretty quickly.

"At times, it's difficult," Hubert said. "But luckily, I actually started my hockey career playing defense, so I was able to remember some of the things of how to play the position. It's still a big transition for me, but I feel like I'm getting used to it pretty quickly."

With Hubert and senior Bradford Thornburgh, one of the top goaltenders in the PIHL, leading the way, the Tigers have championship aspirations again despite the heavy graduation attrition.

And the titles last season have only fueled Hubert's desire to add to his trophy collection.

"It definitely fuels us," Hubert said. "Tasting success always makes you want more.

"I try to spread the message to our freshmen that northing is better than winning a Penguins Cup and a state championship. I want them to get that feeling, and hopefully they can do it with us."

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