Team playing in Berks League
Three coaches for the combined Cocalico/Garden Spot/Ephrata ice hockey team remained behind the bench to gather equipment following their game against the Daniel Boone Blazers on November 18.
The game had not been much of a contest. Daniel Boone was a man-sized team with talent and speed to match. The Blazers had already scored six of their seven goals before Jonathan Witman, assisted by Alex Seibel’s rink-long rush, scored the combined team’s lone goal in the second period. The last thing the coaches may have expected was to see someone waiting to talk about the game.
When ask which one was the head coach, the coaches, head coach Randy Leisey, Curt Witman and Kurt Ackerman broke into smiles and a comedy routine. “Which one of us was the head coach tonight?” they quipped. Eventually, Leisey admitted he was and stepped forward to talk about the game.
“(Daniel Boone’s) goaltender is a very talented goaltender,” said Leisey. “They have a couple of forwards who are very talented. This team is one of the better teams.”
“They were shooting and going to the net, getting rebounds… We weren’t keeping them away from the goaltender. That’s a problem we need to work out. With a big team like this, we have to be there for defense.”
His team plays in the Eastern Pennsylvania Scholastic Hockey League (EPSHL) with players from the three schools. Through the first three games, they have a record of 0-2-1 and the highlight so far being a 7-7 tie against Fleetwood on November 11.
“The second game, the kids really played awesome hockey,” said Leisey. “Very good hockey. It was back and forth. Some of the passes were awesome set ups. They had some really good plays in that game.”
Noah Good scored a hat trick while Chase Weik and Brad Bartusik recorded two goals each as the team recorded 45 shots.
The challenge in the early season has been to get the players to act as a team, as most of them are together for the first time.
“We have very good, talented guys here,” said Leisey. “We just have to get in a rhythm. We’re having trouble now. We practice some of the same nights that we have games. We’re losing some practice. We’re trying to get that worked out.”
Bringing players from schools that are natural rivals has been the least of the coach’s problems.
“That’s what’s really neat about this,” he said. “You have three teams coming together and they are playing as one team. That’s pretty special. We all come together here in the locker room. So far, I think the kids kind of coming together with each other.”
Coming together was a necessity dictated by the cost and realities of a club sport. Unlike other school sports, hockey is entirely parent and team funded and the price can be enormous. Add in the realities of a smaller school district and mergers like this team’s become unavoidable. Last year, Garden Spot and Cocalico fielded enough players for one team in the EPSHL while Ephrata fielded one in the Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League. This season, the numbers did not add up for separate teams.
“We lost a lot of guys,” explained Leisey. “We only have four Garden Spot kids and three Cocalico (players). We lost a couple which is a shame. The price gets a little out of control.”
The Ephrata team, after advancing into the second round of the CPIHL playoffs last year, lost many players to graduation, according to Ephrata Hockey president Tom Zuziak, and struggled to find enough players for the new season.
“We knew at the end of last year that we faced a numbers problem,” he said. “When it came down to crunch time, we only had eight guys registered. We had 13 players (last year) but we graduated eight or nine guys. The only players from that team that are on this one are the goalie Logan Pogwist, defenseman Alex Seibel, Chase Weik and Steve Zuziak and Tyler Gallagher.”
Originally, the search was on for a partner in the CPIHL but the possible mergers were not close at hand.
“We looked around in CPIHL for partners but we couldn’t seem to find a match,” said Zuziak. “I think if we would have hooked up with somebody, we would have ended up playing our games out in York and Harrisburg. It came to be that Cocalico and Garden Spot were over in this league and short numbers too. All the clubs were in the same boat.”
“I thought it was a pretty natural fit, especially with Cocalico,” he continued. “Plus, from our standpoint, the games are all here at the Body Zone or at Lancaster Ice Rink. Convenience-wise, it’s a lot better.”
The season will resume Wednesday night against Governor Mifflin at the Lancaster Ice Rink and the challenge will be to keep a school averaging seven goals a game in check while working against a defense letting up five goals per contest.
“I think we should have a couple of these games (where) we should be able to knock out more shots on goal,” said Leisey. “(In the DB) game, we had 20 (and) they had 26. In the (Fleetwood) game, we had 48. The first game, we had 11. We are getting more shots on net. We have to try to get better shots. We have to get some screens in front of (the other goaltender), make him look through players.”
If they succeed in that, they will be a combined team in name only, as well as making it easier to find the head coach.