With a much-needed two points up for grabs, a Fox Chapel hockey team with playoff aspirations wasted little time establishing control.
The Foxes scored seven times in the first period on their way to an 11-3 victory over Freeport in a PIHL Class A game Monday night at Alpha Ice Complex.
Fox Chapel, which went winless last season in Class AA, moved into in a tie for eighth place with Sewickley Academy in the standings. It also gave the Foxes (8-6-1-1) a four-point cushion over Deer Lakes and Kiski Area, which are tied for the 12th and final playoff spot. Fox Chapel is 4-0-1 over its last five games.
After Freeport’s Addison Stewart opened the scoring a little over a minute into the game, Fox Chapel’s Reed Troutman took the ensuing faceoff, raced into the zone and took a return pass from Nathaniel Mishke before depositing the puck in the back of the net.
Chase Villani scored 15 seconds later to make it 2-1 and the Foxes never trailed again. Colby Zmenkowski, Troutman, Seth Krhovsky and Jack Rice scored unanswered goals over the next five minutes to open up a 6-1 margin.
“All year we have been focused on a fast start,” Fox Chapel coach Jason Silver said. “The strength of our team is our scoring. We have guys that can fill the net pretty well, but it’s about getting a fast start and taking nothing for granted no matter who the opponent is. It’s been a work in progress, and it’s nice to see the results tonight.”
Michael Zecca slipped a puck between several Fox Chapel defenders and through the pads of goalie Tyler Radigan to give Freeport (3-12) a brief reprieve, but Villani responded by scoring on the power play three minutes later to push the lead to 7-2.
“(Fox Chapel) is a very good offensive team,” Freeport coach Ryan Cooper said. “They have a lot of players that can skate, move the puck and shoot the puck. Once we gave up a couple of quick goals there I thought our kids were thinking, ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ We’re trying to teach them to overcome the adversity of this year in what is kind of a rebuilding year. We want them to take the goods from each game and try to eliminate the negatives. It’s been a work in progress this year.”
Villani and fraternal twin brothers Seth and Shane Krhovsky all had a multiple-point night. Villani and Seth Krhovsky registered hat tricks and Shane Krhovsky had six assists. The Foxes had 14 players score at least one point.
“It comes down to knowing that we can trust our teammates and trusting our game,” Seth Krhovsky said. “We’re not going to get down on ourselves, and we’re going to keep pushing every shift.”
Fox Chapel had a lot of success cycling the puck below the goal line, which is something Silver said he stressed in practice. None of their goals came via a breakaway and most were scored after sustained pressure in the zone. The Foxes scored several times on deflections. They also had a couple of goals off rebounds in front of the net and outshot Freeport, 54-32.
Another bright spot came on the power play, where they cashed in three times. The Foxes are clicking at just below 19 percent with the man advantage, good for ninth in the league.
“Each member of our power play has a cannon of a shot and can score at anytime,” Villani said. “We know how to set it up and we know that each chip of the puck and each play can lead to a goal. Every kid on the team is working hard, and we all work together to get that one goal.”
Villani, Shane Krhovsky and defenseman Willie Doyle will represent Fox Chapel at the PIHL Class A All-Star Game Sunday at RMU Island Sports Center. Kyle Hazelett and Slade Ohl will represent Freeport.
The Foxes have four games remaining, two with teams ahead of them in the standings (South Fayette and Bishop McCort) and two against opponents below them (Greensburg Salem and Beaver). They hope to continue their upward trend as they try to lock down a postseason berth.
“We’ve been in playoff mode since before the break,” Silver said. “To get the wins over Wheeling Catholic and Kiski Area before the holidays was certainly a big turning point in the season. We’ll enjoy this one for 24 hours then get back to practice on Wednesday and turn our focus to next Monday’s game with South Fayette.”