T-D HS Hockey

Westmont Hilltop’s Ty Rickabaugh delivers a hit to Greater Johnstown’s Devin Smith in this Jan. 27 file photo. The Hilltoppers, who finished 13-6-3 in PIHL play, begin play in the PIHL Class A playoffs tonight when they face Freeport at the Belmont Complex in Kittanning.

Hilltoppers playoff quest begins today

By: Mike Mastovich

Veteran Westmont Hilltop hockey coach Art McQuillan and his staff used a simple, yet effective slogan to motivate the Hilltoppers throughout the PIHL season.
“Prepare to Win.”
The Hilltop staff adapted to the social media age by abbreviating the motto to P2W on banners, T-shirts, emails and traditional paperwork.
P2W will take on a different meaning when the PIHL Class A Penguin Cup playoffs open tonight.
“They were told Sunday morning at practice that all changes to “Play to Win,’” McQuillan said. “We believe we have prepared throughout the course of the season. Now we have to play our best.”
Section 3 champion Westmont Hilltop (13-6-3) will face Freeport (14-5-2) at 7:30 p.m. at the Belmont Complex in Kittanning.
The teams already have played three times this season, with two ties, and most recently, a 6-3 Freeport win at Cambria County War Memorial Arena on Feb. 25.
“When we played them at home last week we had three costly turnovers in our defensive end and they all ended up in the back of the net,” McQuillan said. “Other than that we outshot them something like 52-21.”
The teams tied 3-3 at Cambria County War Memorial on Oct. 30. Westmont went on the road and tied Freeport 2-2 on Nov. 7.
“Freeport is a very structured team defensively,” McQuillan said. “They play well together as a team. They’re a lot similar to us in a sense that they have a defense-first philosophy and they figure the scoring will take care of itself.”
Freeport’s Cole Hepler has taken care of much of the scoring with 32 goals, 22 assists and 54 points. Hepler participated in a Johnstown Tomahawks camp, McQuillan said.
“They count on him for a majority of their offense,” McQuillan said. “We have pretty balanced scoring over a number of individuals.”
Westmont’s Brandon Leech is tied for 19th in the PIHL Class A regular-season scoring with 10 goals and 31 points. Stephen DeMarco is 25th with 13 goals and 25 points.
Westmont also relies on Michael Lamison and Adam McQuillan for points.
“We might match lines with DeMarco’s line, battling Hepler’s line,” coach McQuillan said.
DeMarco is a junior center with junior Austin Crespo on his right wing and senior Lewie Buchkovich on the left side.
Liam Moran centers a line with right wing T.J. Smith and Jonas Kresak. But coach McQuillan said in certain situations, defenseman Ian Campbell will center that line, with Moran playing the left wing and Smith, the right.
“We’re going to count on those three seniors to give us a spark,” coach McQuillan said. “They bring some energy.”
On defense, Westmont counts on the pairings of senior Cullen McQuillan and freshman Ty Rickabaugh, and seniors Leech and Campbell.
Sebastian Ragno has been solid in net, posting a 13-6-3 record with four shutouts, a 2.06 goals against average and .903 save percentage.
“Ragno has been solid and consistent for us all year long,” coach McQuillan said. “We need to show up with an outstanding effort in front of him.”
Westmont has advanced to the postseason every year since 1991. The only year the Hilltoppers missed the playoffs under McQuillan was 1989-90 when Westmont skated in Class AAA.
Hilltop won the Penguin Cup in 2003 and finished as state runner-up. The Hilltoppers advanced to the 1998 Penguin Cup final but lost to Seton-LaSalle.
In addition to this season, Westmont recently has won PIHL division/section titles during the regular season in 2006 and 2013.
“We believe our team is battle tested from playing in the Toronto Tournament and the holiday tournament in Pittsburgh against mostly Quad-A teams,” said coach McQuillan, who had his 500th career coaching win earlier this season.
“We’re ready,” he added. “P2W.”

Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.