Hockey Notebook: Butler continues to make strides on ice
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After coming back from a two-year hiatus, the Butler High School varsity hockey program won a combined five games the past two seasons.
This season, the Golden Tornado has already won that many in nine games.
Butler is 5-4 and one of the surprise teams of the PIHL this season.
"We had to just change the culture," Butler coach Mike Guentner said. "What I mean is, before it was just boys who liked to play hockey joining the team and playing. They weren't playing together."
Guentner joined the Butler staff as an assistant last season, but after the Tornado started 0-12, he was promoted to head coach.
He was a Class of 2005 graduate at Butler who also played hockey at Western Michigan University. He was on the last Butler team to make the PIHL playoffs and his junior season, the Tornado set the school record for wins in a season with 16.
"I think this team could come close," Guentner said.
One of the reasons is Tanner Gilliland. A senior forward, he led the team in scoring last season with 17 goals and 26 points in 21 games. He is on pace to pass those marks, as he has already scored nine goals and 20 points through nine games this season.
Gilliland reminds Guentner of one of his teammates in high school, Spencer Crouse, whoholds many of Butler's scoring records.
"Tanner has all the tools to break those records," Guentner said. "He and Spencer are a lot alike."
Butler has also gotten solid play from goaltender Clay Bachman. The sophomore goaltender is 3-2 with a .911 save percentage and 3.40 goals-against average. Those numbbers are a bit skewed, however, because he let in 10 goals against State College on Nov. 8, but has stopped 146-of-153 shots (.954) in his other four starts, three of which are wins.
One of those wins was against State College, as Butler bounced back from its 10-2 loss earlier in the season to win 4-1 on the road.
"The win against State College really gives us a lot of momentum," Gilliland said.
It has also brought more attention from the media and those around the community to the team.
For Guentner, he knew Butler had something special this season when it won the Belmont Cup preseason tournament in Kittanning.
But now that the team has beaten 2012 playoff teams State College, Norwin and Central Catholic, everyone else seems to be noticing what the Tornado already knew.
"We were wondering why we weren't getting more attention earlier," Guentner said.
Now that the Tornado has the attention of the community, the players plan to try to keep it. They face a tough slate right out of the holiday break with games against Seneca Valley and North Allegheny.
The road won't be easy to get back to the playoffs, but Gilliland said it would mean a lot to him and the program.
"It would be a big step for Butler hockey and a great way for me to go out in my senior year," Gilliland said.
Moon deals with injuries
Michael Durkin and Dustin Egenlauf have missed time this season with concussions.
Davis DiCello was held out of games with a broken foot.
Brett Matey couldn't go a few times this season with a shoulder injury.
A knee injury has kept Dom Tarquinio from suiting up a few games.
Despite missing all these players due to injuries this season, Moon (6-2-1) sits atop the Section 1-AA standings and is ranked No. 5 in Class AA.
"We have not had a full bench yet this year and it is looking like January before we get everyone back," Moon coach Craig Bioni said.
The Tigers may not have been able to sustain those types of losses last season, when they went 10-11-1 and lost to West Allegheny in the PIHL Class AA quarterfinals. But Bioni said the team is much more than just one or two players this season.
"We are a much better balanced team top to bottom," Bioni said.
Those five injured Moon players have missed a combined 24 games this season, but the Tigers should be close to full strength when they come out of the holiday break.
Top games this week
• Bethel Park vs. Upper St. Clair, 5 p.m., Wednesday, Penguins Pond -- Two top-five Class AAA teams match up in this one. The Black Hawks (5-2-0) enter the game on a five-game winning streak, while the Panthers (5-1-1) have won their past three games.
• Ford City at Indiana, 8:20 p.m., Wednesday, S&T Bank Arena -- Section 3 foes Indiana (9-1-1) and Ford City (7-1-1) are first and second in goal differential in the Open Division this season.
First Published December 28, 2012 12:00 am