West Xtra: 'Co-op' team figures to be a factor in PIHL race

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Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is in its inaugural season in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League's Open Class division.

But the Chargers' coach and a few of its players know what it takes to win a PIHL championship.

OLSH coach Jaime Dougherty and seniors Walt Riggs, Aidan White and Glenn Veahman were all part of the Quigley Catholic team that won the 2012 Open Cup championship.

That Quigley team was a co-op of numerous schools, but the following season there were no Quigley students on the team, so the program switched its name to Ambridge and went 9-10-1.

After the 2012-13 season, Ambridge and a few other schools broke away, leaving just players from OLSH, South Side Beaver and Cornell to form a team. The program then struck a partnership with Avonworth and went with the "OLSH" moniker.

"We still hold Quigley on as well," Dougherty said. "We don't have any players from Quigley on our team, but if there was a player from there who wanted to play, he would play for us."

So OLSH isn't entirely a new team, which is why Dougherty's goal to get into the playoffs seems reasonable.

The Chargers are 3-6 following Monday night's loss against Harbor Creek (7-1).

"We know we're probably not going to crack the top 4-5 teams [in our conference]," Dougherty said. "But they take the top eight [from each conference] to the playoffs, so I think it would be great for this team to get in."

Riggs has led the way. The team's captain, who was fourth on the 2011-12 Quigley team in points with 27, leads OLSH with six goals and 11 points this season.

All but one of his goals have come in Charger victories.

"He's a four-year starter and our top point getter," Dougherty said. "He's also a very good leader on the ice, as well as in the locker room."

Veahman and Paul Heflin are alternate captains and have combined for 13 points.

Outside of its four seniors, however, the Chargers are young and inexperienced. Of the 17 players on the roster, 10 are in their first year playing varsity hockey.

One of those first-year varsity players is goaltender Jesse Broniszewski. A sophomore netminder, he had the tough task of replacing goaltender Preston Charleton, who won 35 games in the regular season and playoffs for Quigley/ Ambridge over the past three seasons.

But Broniszewski has kept OLSH in games so far this season, despite seeing the third-most shots (311) of any goaltender in the Open Class entering this week. He had an .887 save percentage through eight games.

"I've been pleasantly surprised by his play," Dougherty said. "When our offense and our defense is faltering, he's really kept us in games."

Broniszewski has a talented, young defenseman helping in front of him this season in sophomore Joe Line and should get another back shortly in sophomore Mark Richardson.

Richardson has missed time with a stress fracture in his leg but Dougherty said he should be back soon to provide a good scoring punch from the blue line.

"Joe and Mark are Kris Letang-type defensemen in their style of play," Dougherty said, referring to the pair's ability to get involved in the team's offense.

OLSH will need all the scoring help it can get, as the Chargers ranked just 18th out of 23 teams in the Open Classification in goals scored entering this week.

But Dougherty hopes that his young players will continue to improve throughout the season to make OLSH a formidable opponent come playoff time.

"Our goals-for are up and our goals-against are down recently," Dougherty said. "I think if we can continue to improve. If we stay healthy, we'll be able to give the upper teams a run for their money."

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