Hockey Notebook: Armstrong team ahead of times

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A new high school to serve both Kittanning and Ford City areas is set to open in 2015 -- but the hockey teams couldn't wait that long to merge.

The Class A Wildcats and Open Class Sabers have come together to form the Armstrong Riverhawks this season, a team competing in PIHL Class AA.

"We've gotten mostly good support," said Doug Anthony, who coached Ford City from 2007-12 and now is coaching the Riverhawks. "Hockey often times takes a back door to other sports, so we thought we could be at the front and see how it works with the merger."

So far, the results have been sterling. Despite a setback in Erie to Cathedral Prep Monday, Armstrong (9-4) is tied for the third-most points in Class AA. It shouldn't be a surprise, considering the talent the team acquired in the merger.

Ford City was the Open Cup champion last season and the Sabers' second- and third-leading scorers from the title team, Josh Oliver and Luke Gross, now play for Armstrong.

Kittanning, meanwhile, was a Penguins Cup semifinalist and returned Class A's top two scorers from last season, Hunter Grafton and Christian Miller.

"Bringing the two teams together, we knew we would be talented and it would be exciting," Anthony said. "We're just lucky with how coachable they are."

The players were mostly familiar with each other, as many had played together for the Armstrong Arrows amateur team, Grafton said. But it still took some time for the players to jell, as Armstrong lost its first two games to North Hills and Hampton.

But Anthony placed Grafton and Miller on the same line, like they were for Kittanning, near the end of the Hampton game, and from that point everything started clicking. The Riverhawks rattled off eight consecutive wins.

"It took us awhile," Anthony said. "I'm more defensive-minded, and Kittanning was more of an offensive team. ... But at the end of the Hampton game, when we put Christian and Hunter together, it clicked. It wasn't just us filling the net more. Everyone was just more comfortable in their roles."

Grafton said Anthony has been instrumental in making the players feel comfortable. A senior captain, he noted that the hockey team is setting a precedent that the rest of the future Armstrong athletic teams can follow.

"We're showing everyone it can be done," Grafton said. "I know some people are worried about what's going to happen with football, but we're showing it can be a smooth transition. And just look at the product we're putting out there."

Unplayable pond

Indiana already had two games postponed this season due to inclement weather.

But on Monday, the Little Indians had a game postponed because of the icy conditions inside the ice rink.

The varsity squads of Indiana (8-1 prior to Thursday's game against Greensburg Salem) and Ringgold (4-7) were set to play a game at Rostraver Ice Garden following a junior varsity game between Ringgold and Penn-Trafford. After the junior varsity game finished, the Zamboni came out to refresh the ice.

The Zamboni broke down in the middle of the ice, however, and had to be pushed off the ice by the players. But while it was stationary, the water it released put a hole in the ice, making the rink unplayable.

"Since 1999, I've only seen this happen once -- at the Golden Mile," Indiana coach Dom Glavach said. "That happened at the first intermission and we still played the game. It's very rare."

The postponement came at a bad time for Indiana, which was looking to rebound from its first loss of the season against Baldwin last Thursday.

"You're only as good as your last game, and our last game was a loss," Glavach said Tuesday. "You want to get that taste out of your mouth."

Glavach said there was no makeup date scheduled for the game against Ringgold, and he wasn't sure if it would be rescheduled.

Games of the Week

Morgantown at Peters Township (Open), Tuesday, 9 p.m., Iceoplex at Southpointe -- The top two teams in the Open Class Section 1 meet, as the Indians (11-2) will try to avenge a season-opening loss to the Mohawks (10-2).

Chartiers Valley at Erie Cathedral Prep, Thursday, 8:30 p.m., Mercyhurst College Ice Rink -- The Colts (8-5 before a game Thursday night against Plum) and Ramblers (9-3) enter the game as two of the hottest teams in Class AA.

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