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Quick start energizes North Hills hockey team

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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Hills' Matthew Berner competes against Hampton on Nov. 14, 2016, at Ice Connection.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Hills' Matthew Berner celebrates a goal against Hampton on Nov. 14, 2016, at Ice Connection.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Hills' Jesse Weideman battles for possession with Hampton's Daniel White on Nov. 14, 2016, at Ice Connection.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
North Hills' Samuel Urbanek shoots against Hampton goalie Jacob McGee on Nov. 14, 2016, at Ice Connection.

The North Hills hockey team wanted to set the tone for its season from the first game.

A strong start has the Indians thinking about the playoffs — and possibly more.

North Hills was 4-3 after its first seven games. That left the squad two points out of first place in the PIHL Class AA West Division standings.

“It’s one of our better starts in the last 15 years,” North Hills coach Carl Kelcher said. “The boys have been solid. We have a real solid defense and balanced scoring.”

The Indians had won three in a row before they dropped a 4-3 thriller to division-leading Moon.

“We’re very happy right now,” North Hills senior captain John Seibert said. “I don’t think anyone expected this to happen. There’s no superstar on the team. It’s a team effort, and that’s what makes us so good. So far, so good.”

All but three skaters on the roster have recorded at least a point so far.

“We have a pretty balanced scoring attack; everybody is contributing,” Kelcher said. “We were a little worried going into the year because this will be the first time in the last five years that we will not have a 30-goal scorer. We’re just very balanced this year. We’ve been able to cut down on our penalties and increase our shot totals; it’s been a nice start.”

Jarrett Warrick leads the team with 11 points. He skates on a line with Nathan Waters-Virgin (5 goals, 6 points) and Jesse Weideman (2, 7). Ian Keller (3, 6), Jeremy Zihmer (2, 5) and Sam Urbanek (5, 12) usually skate on the same line. Danny Stanton, Carl Pietrzyk, Shea Jones, Alex Kraus and Austin Isaly have rotated on a line, as well.

“We have three good lines. It’s been nice,” Kelcher said. “Every one of those players can step in on any line.”

Matt Berner, Liam O’Neill, Nathan Sroka, Zach Reidell and Hunter Homic join Seibert on defense.

“We have a solid three pairings of defense,” Seibert said. “We don’t have a superstar there, either. We all just work really well together.”

Seniors Alec Volz and Dillon Clark and junior Dominic Porco have shared the goaltending duties.

“Any one of those guys, the boys feel fine with them in the net. It’s a problem to have, but it’s a good problem. I’ve never had three varsity-caliber goalies in a season,” Kelcher said. “Each one is a good goalie, and we don’t hesitate to use them.”

The Indians, who missed the Penguins Cup playoffs last year, hope to be in the mix this season. Six teams were within three points of first place last year. North Hills thinks the race will be close again, which gives the team a shot.

“For sure — double-A is wide-open. It’s a perfect opportunity this year for us to make a run,” Seibert said. “Any team can beat any other team on any given night. That’s the beauty of the game.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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