East Xtra: U.S. ball hockey gets a lift from Penn Hills guys

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It might not have the glamor or fan popularity associated with ice hockey, but for several Pittsburgh area residents, the recent World Team Ball Hockey Championships that took place in Bratislava, Slovakia, will provide memories that will last a lifetime.

Four area residents -- all from Penn Hills -- competed for the American Men's 20-under team that defeated Canada, 4-2, for the bronze medal.

The Pittsburgh influence on the Men's 18-under team was even more pronounced as the team featured eight Pittsburgh-area residents. That team also took home a bronze medal with a 2-0 victory against Canada.

"We were playing ball hockey, which is different than Dekhockey," said 19-year-old Matt Kiesel, who finished the tournament with eight goals for a team that went 5-2 with losses coming against the host Slovakians and Canada. The Americans qualified for the bronze-medal game where they exacted revenge on the Canadians.

One day earlier, Canada had beaten the Americans, 4-3.

"Any time an American team plays a Canadian team, it's intense," Kiesel said. "We had the lead the whole time in the bronze medal game and dominated them. They found out it's hard to beat a team twice."

Kiesel said ball hockey is played on hockey rinks that are devoid of ice. Each game consisted of three 15-minute periods.

Defensemen Kevin Perischetti said he and his Pittsburgh friends had to endure a long tryout process just to make the team.

"We had a tryout in Harrisburg, and there were like 40 to 50 kids trying out," he said. "A month later, the team was cut to 30, and then a few weeks after that, they cut it to 20. We found out that all four of us made the team, so that was pretty crazy."

The other two successful candidates on the 20-Under team from Penn Hills were forward Vinnie Tumminello and goalie Daniel Ujcic.

Kiesel's younger brother, Jimmy, was one of eight area residents on the 18-Under team from Pittsburgh.

Jimmy Kiesel's team finished with a 3-4 record, but the 18-Under team played well enough to qualify for the medal round, where -- like the 20-Under team -- the squad overcame an earlier 6-2 loss to Canada to win a bronze medal.

The other members of the 18-Under team from Pittsburgh were Drew Albright of Pittsburgh, Austin Avampato of Export, Josh Drwal of Ohio Township, Tyler Fischetti of Penn Hills, Jason Hubner of Plum, Edward McDonough of Pittsburgh and Anquan Smith of Turtle Creek.

"It was very satisfying to beat Canada in the medal round," Jimmy Kiesel said. "After they beat us, they were talking down to us. We just came out determined [in the bronze-medal game] and outworked them the whole game."

Tumminello, who is in the business school at Duquesne University but has yet to declare a major, said the crowds in Bratislava took a while to get used to.

"The Slovaks are passionate about their ball hockey," he said. "It was neat being in a hostile arena, and it was a fun experience. It was cool to see how passionate they are about the sport. When we played Slovakia and in the bronze-medal game, there were between 1,500 and 2,000 people watching the game."

And, he said, the Slovaks, weren't above using some gamesmanship.

"Their 18-Under team sat behind our bench," he said. "We heard a lot of whistling, so we know that's how they register displeasure."

Both teams were in Slovakia for eight days. Besides the memories of winning a bronze medal in an international tournament, they players discovered what it was like for an American to visit a Central European country.

"There was a big culture shock," Tumminello said. "The language barrier was probably the toughest thing to get around. You'd tell the [waiter or waitress] that you didn't want mayo on a hamburger and they'd put double the mayo on and no cheese."

Jimmy Keisel said it was easier when the team visited a restaurant that featured menus with pictures.

"You just pointed to what you wanted," he said.

Game conditions were challenging, too, Tumminello said.

"They weren't too big on air conditioning," he said. "It got pretty hot in the rink, that's for sure."


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