East Xtra: Goalie in spotlight for Penn-Trafford

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Come April, Eric Phelps will be in the spotlight on the Penn-Trafford High School auditorium stage, performing in the school production of "Shrek the Musical."

But a few weeks earlier, Phelps is hoping to be under the bright lights of Consol Energy Center, helping the Warriors win a Penguins Cup title.

Phelps, a junior goaltender, is one of the main reasons Penn-Trafford (11-7) has gone from three wins last season to fourth overall in PIHL Class AAA this season.

"He's played very well," Penn-Trafford coach Brian Lehneke said. "He's played a big part in our success."

Phelps split time with Jake Proskin last season, going 1-7-1 with a 4.66 goals-against average and .875 save percentage for the 3-17 Warriors.

But Phelps worked hard this offseason, training with goaltending coach Shane Clifford, who worked with Penguins starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury early in his career.

The hard work has paid off, as Phelps is 7-4 this season with a 3.08 goals-against average and an .892 save percentage.

"I've really improved my quickness," Phelps said. "My lateral movement has been fantastic."

The opposing coaches noticed Phelps improvement as well, voting him into last Sunday's PIHL Class AAA All-Star Game, where he stopped all 10 shots he faced.

"[Being selected for the all-star game] meant a lot," Phelps said. "I've worked really hard."

And not just for the Warriors.

Phelps also plays amateur hockey for the Pittsburgh Huskies, an amateur travel team which often takes him out of the state and sometimes out of the country to Canada.

Additionally, Phelps will be playing Donkey in the school musical, which is set to debut April 4. Often times, he has to go straight from rehearsals to hockey practice, and sometimes he has to miss rehearsals for hockey games.

"It seems like I'm always busy," Phelps said.

It'll be the third musical Phelps has appeared in for Penn-Trafford, after performing in "Oliver" as a freshman and "Guys and Dolls" as a sophomore. But "Donkey" will be his biggest role and he said getting on the stage to perform is quite nerve-wrecking.

Phelps said he doesn't feel the same nerves on the ice.

"I'm much more nervous before a musical," Phelps said. "On the ice, I'm in my comfort zone. That's what everyone sees me as -- a hockey player. I'm always comfortable and ready to play."

Phelps' rise to being one of the top goaltenders in Class AAA has helped Penn-Trafford go from allowing 6.3 goals per game last season to 2.8 this season.

Phelps is quick to credit the team's defense, which returned everyone from last season. Andy Power, a Highmark Player of the Month for December, is the only senior, while Jacob Graffius and Shane Riley have improved greatly from their freshman to sophomore seasons.

"They had a lot of skill last season, they were just so young," Lehneke said. "They were freshmen playing against 18-year-old seniors and we got a lot of goals scored on us. They had the skill and we knew they were capable of being better once they got older."

The Warriors, offense, meanwhile, is one of the best in Class AAA, averaging 5.6 goals per contest. Through Monday Jake Miller had scored nine more points than anyone else in the class, with his teammate, Jonah Graffius 15 points behind.

The success on both ends of the ice has led to Penn-Trafford's goal differential being a plus-46 through Monday, tied with Peters Township for the best mark in the league and a plus-117 improvement on last season.

That success has made Phelps' favorite activity even more enjoyable.

"Hockey is definitely my favorite thing to do," Phelps said. "Hockey is just such a different experience. Being with my boys, it's like I'm in a different world.

"But I do love musicals and I treat it like a big game in hockey."

If the Warriors continue their good play, Phelps might just get to play in the biggest PIHL game of his career leading into the biggest musical performance of his career.

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