North Xtra: North Hills rebuilds on the fly

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From taking a year's hiatus to becoming a darkhorse Class AA Penguins Cup contender, it has been quite the turnaround for the North Hills High School hockey program over the past few years.

The Indians decided to "take off" the 2010-11 season -- at least as a varsity program -- then lost their first 10 games of the 2011-12 season. But since that time, North Hills has won more regular-season games than it has lost. That includes winning four of seven games this season.

But just to show how far the Indians have come, a 4-3 record doesn't satisfy Indians coach Brandon Dudt-Mulzet.

"It's hard to see where we are right now because we've had a few too many inconsistencies," he said. "We've got Latrobe, Bishop Canevin and Chartiers Valley coming up. Those are the type of teams we want to be like. We'll see how we match up."

Those three games are during an 11-day stretch, which starts tonight when North Hills plays defending state champion Greater Latrobe. The Indians have already lost once this season to Canevin, 4-1, and also lost their other toughest game of the season, 5-2, to Hampton.

Since the loss to the Talbots, North Hills has taken care of business by winning three of four games, scoring 27 goals. Junior Brett Berner has scored in each of the four games, and has seven goals in his past two contests.

"Brett is the model of consistency," Dudt-Mulzet said. "He already had scored his 50th career goal earlier this season and got his 100th and 101st [career] point in our last game [against Franklin Regional]. He's really starting to kick it into another gear."

Berner led North Hills with 45 points last season, but he isn't the only experienced scorer returning. The Indians returned their top five scorers from last season -- Berner, Tyler Volz, Tyler Heisel, Brendan Shevchik and Tiernan McGrath -- and those five have combined for 26 goals and 24 assists so far this season.

Shevchik and McGrath have gotten their points from the blue line, where they lead a defense that has gone from allowing 5.2 goals per game last season to only 3.7 per contest in the early going this season.

"It's a really good group," Dudt-Mulzet said. "Our defense is definitely a strength right now."

That is important because the Indians are inexperienced in net.

Freshman Kaden Mahsoob has started four of the seven games in his first varsity season. He has split time with senior Trenton Pelligreno, who hadn't played hockey in three years.

But the duo has done enough to give the Indians a chance to win games. Mahsoob is 2-2 with a 3.50 goals-against average and an .887 save percentage entering this week, while Pelligreno is 2-1 with a 4.00 goals-against average and .803 save percentage.

"Both have come a long way," Dudt-Mulzet said. "They're playing a lot better than expected and improve every time they take the ice."

The goaltenders' continued improvement would go a long way toward North Hills solving its inconsistencies and getting to the level that its coach expects.

"I expect a ton from this group," Dudt-Mulzet said. "They're starting to get their legs under them and we'll see where we are coming up here."

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