HATFIELD TWP. >> Five years ago, Hatboro-Horsham didn’t have an ice hockey program.
Now, the Hatters are thinking championship. After years of developing players, creating a middle school team and improving skill and depth, Hatboro-Horsham has its deepest and most complete team since its inception.
They’re not perfect, but if their play in the second and third periods Wednesday night was any indication, their goal of playing in the SHSHL championship may not be far off.
Hatboro-Horsham controlled play in the second and third periods as it topped Upper Dublin 4-1 at Hatfield Ice. The Cardinals, a young but much-improved squad, had some good moments but couldn’t do much to break the Hatters’ onslaught of shots over the last two periods of play.
“I think we stumbled out of the block and weren’t quite focused,” Hatters coach Gus Salfiti said. “They were overconfident at the beginning and when they settled down and got back to doing their basic, standard stuff, they became a lot more consistent.”
The first period was fairly even, with Upper Dublin putting pressure on the Hatters early as Hatboro-Horsham had to endure two penalties in the first half of the frame. Luckily for the Hatters, the penalty kill and senior goaltender Ryan Bell were up to the task. Salfiti said he’s purposely put his best skaters as defensemen this season so that when they get the puck, they can quickly move it out of the defensive zone and get going on offense.
Bell was also solid, stopping 28 of 29 shots in the game. While he had a couple of impressive stops, including a glove save on a blast by UD’s Chris Barbera while being screened in the third period, it was his subtle play that stood out to his coach.
“He held the posts when he had to, there are a lot of little nuances to goaltending that a lot of people don’t see,” Salfiti said. “You see the big saves, but he was very steady with everything he did. His position was good, his lateral movement was solid, he was very consistent in what he did.”
Upper Dublin is relying on a lot of freshmen on this year’s team but coach Anthony Richichi doesn’t mind. After spending last season with just eight strong skaters, he has more depth this season and the knowledge another good crop of players will be coming up from eighth grade next year.
One of the holdovers is senior netminder Stephen Sanders, who performed admirably despite facing a bombardment of shots all game. In all, the Hatters put 55 shots on goal, with Sanders able to make the stop on 51 of them. Two of the Hatters’ goals came off rebounds, the second one on the third shot of a flurry.
The Cardinals were also without defenseman Seth Lerner, out with an injury, taking away one of their best end-to-end guys.
“This year we’re a lot better than we were last year, losing Seth really hurts because we really only have one other natural defenseman the rest are guys who have volunteered or I told had to play,” Richichi said. “I was happy with some of the creativity, but we have to work on clearing the puck away and getting rid of it too easily. We weren’t hard enough on the puck in all three zones.
“We’re trying to build this season, but we’re also trying to win. My upperclassmen guys have worked just as hard and I just wish they’d be able to play with some of the talent we have coming up.”
Hatters senior Nathan Reilly opened the scoring with a top-shelf laser with 8:30 left in the opening frame. That goal was followed quickly by one from Marcus Soucy, who collected a loose puck and beat a recovering Sanders just 23 seconds later.
Upper Dublin cut the lead to 2-1 on a shorthanded breakaway by Ari Nordlinger. Nordlinger was Upper Dublin’s most creative attacker, but didn’t have many chances after the Hatters seized control in the second period.
With the teams almost even on shots after the first, with UD holding a 13-10 edge, the Hatters stopped coasting and started attacking. Hatboro-Horsham owned a 22-8 shot advantage in the second and a 23-8 edge in the third. Yet, they only put away two more goals thanks to the efforts of Sanders.
“Stephen is an all-star, he was facing consistently 70, 80, even 90 shots last year and he’s just amazing,” Richichi said. “They scored on a snipe, one was two rebounds and he’s out of position with our guys not picking up their defensive zone coverage. He’s doing everything he can. One play, he lost a glove and he’s still going for the puck.”
Dylan McClure buried a rebound with 5:25 left in the second period and freshman defenseman Aidan Esack knocked in the third-chace goal with just 13 seconds left in the middle period to give Hatboro-Horsham all the edge it would need.
Salfiti said this is his strongest group of skaters and whatever line is on the ice, he can count on a good shift. They’re not all club players, but the guys who aren’t work just as hard as the players who are on the ice more consistently and are playing with a lot of confidence this season.
The Hatters have tasted the postseason in the past few seasons, but they have a different look at it this season. With players who came up from the middle school program now on the varsity roster, the Hatters believe they can be in the mix in their division.
Even with the goals, the improved talent and the increased depth, there’s one thing Salfiti’s been most pleased with in this still early season.
“The heart and the effort they give me,” Salfiti said. “I remind them it doesn’t take any skill whatsoever to give me 100 percent effort. More often than not, they do that.”
Hatboro-Horsham 4, Upper Dublin 1
Hatboro-Horsham 2 2 0 — 4
Upper Dublin 1 0 0 — 1
Goals: HH – Nathan Reilly, Marcus Soucy, Dylan McClure, Aidan Esack; UD – Ari Nordlinger.
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