T-D HS Hockey

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Richland’s Zach Wesner (right) celebrates with Jeremy Patula during a game against Greater Johnstown on Jan. 10. The Rams open defense of their Laurel Mountain Hockey League title tonight against Central Cambria.

Richland set to defend crown

By: Shawn Curtis

Just because Richland is the defending Laurel Mountain Hockey League champion, it doesn’t mean that coach J.J. Vasilko is letting his squad rest on its laurels as the league’s postseason begins tonight.
Richland will take on Central Cambria in one of two first-round games. The Rams and Red Devils face off at 9 p.m. at Planet Ice in Richland Township.
While last year’s squad won the title, Vasilko believes that the Rams enter this postseason with the same appetite.
“We definitely don’t want to coast on our past accomplishments,” Vasilko said. “We’re still a hungry group. Some of this group was either not with the team last year or injured last year or for whatever circumstance they weren’t a part of it. I know they want to write their own story and be a part of a new championship, if we’re fortunate enough to get that far.”
Richland topped Greater Johnstown last season and was a runner-up to Bishop Guilfoyle in 2011.
Bishop Guilfoyle and Hollidaysburg play in tonight’s other first-round game at Galactic Ice in Altoona with a scheduled 8:50 p.m. faceoff.
Top-seeded Greater Johnstown and No. 2 Somerset are on quarterfinal byes.   
The Rams hold wins over the Red Devils in their two meetings this season. Richland picked up a 6-2 road win on Dec. 19.
Zach Wesner had three goals and two assists in that win. Jason Edsall, Mitchell Wissinger and Bryce Bostain also netted goals for the Rams (13-5-2).
Central Cambria’s Aaron Fenchak and Shane Hunt notched goals in the December meeting.  
Richland followed that up with a 5-2 triumph at Planet Ice on Jan. 23. Edsall tallied three goals and an assist with Andrew Murtha and Bostian also putting pucks in the net.
Ben Mical and Fenchak scored for Central Cambria (8-11-1) in the second meeting.
“We were fortunate enough to get two wins against them,” Vasilko said. “They’re a younger team. They’re going to be a force in the future of this league and right now, they work hard and we definitely can’t overlook them.” 
Edsall’s team-leading 49 points placed him fifth in the league in scoring, according to statistics posted on the league’s Pointstreak site. Jeremy Patula (48) points, Wesner (41) and Bostian (39) comprise a quartet of skaters that helped the Rams post the league’s fourth-highest scoring total.
Edsall posted four hat tricks on the season with three coming in a three-game rampage against Greater Johnstown (Jan. 10), Ferndale (Jan. 16) and Central Cambria (Jan. 23).
“There’s been some games this year where Jason’s put the team on his back,” Vasilko said. “We’re fortunate enough that he has a nice complement of guys. Our junior class is solid with Bostian, Patula and Wesner. They help carry the scoring load for sure.
“But with 12 seniors, there’s no shortage of that veteran playoff leadership that every playoff team needs to have to be successful.” 
In net, Landon Benyack (1.08 GAA) and Garrett Wingard (3.35 GAA) each have six wins. Wingard has seen the brunt of the time on the ice, posting a 6-5-2 record in 13 games.
Benyack has a perfect record in his six appearances.
Kyle Eckenrod’s 26 points leads the Red Devils, according to posted statistics. Mical (25) and Fenchak (16) follow the sophomore’s lead.
The Red Devils have lost once since Jan. 30, carrying a 5-1-1 record since their loss to Richland in January.
Bryce Boring (4-4-0, 3.50 GAA) and Jacob Lieb (4-7-1, 4.75 GAA) have split time in the crease for the Red Devils this season.

Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.