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North Hills hockey peaking as postseason nears

Kevin Lohman

The arrow is pointing up for the North Hills hockey team. Way up, in fact, as the group that began the season 2-3 has rallied to become one of the hotter teams in PIHL Class A, winning seven games in a nine-game stretch.

Perhaps there is no better time to catch a rhythm. The Indians (9-5) have been climbing the Class A North division standings and are in fourth place with four games to go in the regular season.

Even more encouraging for coach Kevin Pawlos is that the Indians show no signs of letting up. The players are buying into the system and turning a corner.

“I definitely think we’ve been an improving team. Obviously, the last couple of games show it,” Pawlos said. “I think a lot of it is just having the kids buy in to the philosophies and the system that me and the assistant coaches are trying to preach: Make simple plays. Stick to our game. Get pucks deep. Get pucks on the net, and be sound in the defensive zone.

“At the end of the day, we want to be a hard team to play against, no matter who we face.”

Part of what has made North Hills’ such a difficult team to play against is its ability to challenge opposing offenses, particularly in crunch time. In total, the Indians’ are outscoring opponents 19-9 in the third period. The discrepancy, Pawlos said, can be ascribed to the competitive nature and will of his players.

Another contributor to the team’s successful third-period play is goalie Ethan Isaly. The sophomore and Class A all-star has allowed just 33 goals in 348 shots on goal. “I always say with any good team, the goaltender is the pulse of the team. He provides us with a nice, calming pulse out there,” Pawlos said. “He has the ability to steal a game when we need it, and he comes up with the big saves and timely saves when we’re in dire need for it.”

One of the team’s defensive leaders, Liam O’Neill, is excelling at two-way play and leads the Indians in goals. His versatility, paired with the consistency of role players Alex Kraus and Ryan Kosylo, creates a formidable back line.

On offense, North Hills is seeing success with O’Neill creating scoring opportunities along with Ian Keller, who Pawlos describes as the leader of the forward group. Keller, a senior, leads the team in assists.

Forwards Teddy Kiger and Sam Kowalski also are earning praise from their coach for their ability to execute within the system, forcing opponents to play the game that they want to play, something that is becoming a hallmark of North Hills’ identity.

“Our ability to get pucks deep and control the puck below the goal line is something that we’re very strong with,” Pawlos said. “We can control the pace of play and make teams play with us instead of playing their game.

“The more we can get teams to play our game and fall into our laps, it makes them more uncomfortable and it makes us better.”

North Hills will play Deer Lakes at 7:15 p.m. Monday at RMU Island Sports Center.

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.