East Xtra: Senior forward helping Central Catholic turn it around

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More than six minutes into overtime of Central Catholic's Class AAA first-round Penguins Cup game against Norwin in March, the Vikings' Jesse Yeckel found the back of the net to keep Central Catholic's season alive.

So Yeckel's overtime goal recently against State College in a regular-season game can't measure up in excitement to his playoff heroics of last season. But the goal against the Little Lions may have been almost as important.

With the Vikings just 1-4 at the time and badly needing a win, Yeckel sent the game against State College into overtime with his tying goal with four minutes remaining, then won the game by putting a rebound past Little Lions goaltender Chris Rosselot 1:45 into the extra session.

"I think that was a season-turning win," said Yeckel, a senior. "Last season, we went up to State College and lost in overtime, so this was payback. We never stopped trying. It was a great win."

Yeckel is the Vikings' top returning scorer after scoring 11 goals and 15 assists in 2012-13. But the Vikings (4-4) suffered heavy graduation losses, including all-star forwards Anthony Parrucci and Alex Houser and all-star defenseman Neil Carleton. All told, 65 goals are gone from last season's Class AAA Section 4 championship team.

"It's not just replacing one player," Central Catholic coach Bill Connelly said. "So we adjusted our system, trying to create more turnovers in the neutral zone and hoping that creates more chances in transition."

It didn't start off well for Central Catholic, which lost its first three games while trying to break four freshmen and four sophomores into the regular rotation.

Yeckel and senior Kellen Carleton, Neil's brother, are the new Vikings leaders and have tried to bring along the underclassmen. But Yeckel admits it's been frustrating at times.

"It's been tough and our team didn't work together well early in the season," Yeckel said. "But that State College game and the win against Pine-Richland shows what we're capable of."

The Vikings do have some very good young talent, especially up front. Freshman Ryan Haag was a part of all five goals against State College, scoring a hat trick and assisting on the other two goals. For the season, he has seven points.

Fellow freshman Jake Tepe has two assists and is seeing time on Central Catholic's power play and sophomore Antonio Misiti has a pair of goals on the season.

While youth is being served throughout most of the Vikings' lineup, that is not the case in goal, where senior Brian Burger and junior Kevin Dziubek both return after splitting the playing time the previous two seasons.

"It's nice to have both of them back and comfortable in net," Connelly said. "Both have been good this season."

So while almost half of the Vikings' 18-man roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores, Central Catholic has experience at every position on the ice to guide the youngsters.

That mix of veteran leadership and youthful talent has Yeckel dreaming big.

"This team, with our youth progressing, and our seniors, if we can put it together I think we can go all the way to the Pens Cup," Yeckel said. "This group has the best skill level in the four years I've been at Central Catholic. We just need to put it together."

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