West Xtra: Ambridge rebuilds using a new style
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This season has brought a new name and new style to the Ambridge hockey team.
Last season, a team playing under the Quigley Catholic banner flew up and down the ice against its opponents, leading the PIHL's Open Division with 150 goals on its way to a division title.
The team lost multiple players from last season's team, including the players from Quigley. So, the team -- a co-op of players from several schools -- has changed its name to Ambridge this season.
Doug Simon and Nick Santiago, who finished first and third, respectively, in points in the Open Division during the 2011-12 season, were two of the losses the team suffered. The team also lost its third-leading scorer, Troy Emig.
"We had an adjustment to make because of the speed and talent we lost," Ambridge coach Jaymes Dougherty said.
"Last year, to use a basketball term, we were a run-and-gun offense with quick breaks. Now we're more settled around keeping shots off [goaltender] Preston Charlton."
Following Monday night's games, only six of the 22 Open Division teams had scored fewer than Ambridge's 25 goals this season. Walter Riggs (12 points) and Glenn Veahman (11 points) lead the offense, but neither can be found on the first page of the Open Division's league leaders.
Ambridge (4-6-1) has remained close to .500 all season, however, due to the play of Charlton. Charlton won 20 games, including the playoffs, last season in leading his team to the Open Division title.
"I think he is one of the top goaltenders in the league," Dougherty said. "Last season, when our offense or defense wasn't there, he stepped up and carried us. His play in the playoffs was unbelievable. A lot of our success in the playoffs last season was because of Preston."
Although Charlton is not going to win 20 games this season, he is stopping a better percentage of shots. Last season, Charlton turned away 85.5 percent of the shots on net. This season, that percentage is up to 88.5.
Charlton has played well despite having an inexperienced defense in front of him. Only one of the four Ambridge defenders had any varsity experience prior to this season.
It does help, however, that that one player, Chris Ponter. is one of the better defenders in the league With the inexperience around him, Ponter has had to pull double-duty as a mentor.
"I've had to step up more as a leader," Ponter said. "Doug, Nick and Troy, those three were our leaders last season. So this year, I've had to step up and show the younger kids what to do. It's a different role."
The loss of the top three leaders has had another effect. With all the losses the team suffered, it has had to play using a short bench this season.
In fact, at one point prior to the season, Ambridge had just 10 players. The team has since picked up three more players, but is still short-handed compared to many of its opponents.
Thus, Dougherty has had to send his players out for two-minute shifts, instead of the customary 45-second to one-minute shifts. It also doesn't help that the PIHL increased each period by two minutes this season, from 15 to 17 minutes.
"Conditioning has been key for us," Dougherty said. "We have a small group and really need to be in great shape. From August until the first week in October, I had them running 5 miles twice a week. It has paid off big-time."
Ponter hopes it pays off enough to get to the postseason.
"I'd say our goal is to get back to the playoffs after losing the guys we had and try to make a run at it," Ponter said.
First Published January 10, 2013 12:00 am