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Small roster not slowing Lower Moreland ice hockey

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HATFIELD TWP. >> Coleman Peppelman knows that just based on appearance, people are going to overlook him and his Lower Moreland ice hockey teammates

On their best day, the Lions have just 11 players dressed, although they’ve played a game this season with just six total skaters and a goaltender, so they’re never going to tout depth or fresh legs as team strengths. But, appearances can be deceiving and it’s true in case.

Once the puck drops, opponents tend to quickly find out these guys can play.

“Most of the kids we have play on other teams and travel hockey,” Peppelman said. “It shows we’re skilled to have six guys and still compete. That game was hard, but our last game, we scored with less than a second left to win, so it was a big confidence boost.”

It’s also a youthful squad, with three seniors, no juniors and the rest either sophomores or freshmen. Between the size of the roster, players’ schedules and costs, the Lions opted not to schedule any formal practices this season either.

At a glance, it looks like a nightmare scenario for a coach. But first-year head coach Gus Salfiti has found his post to be anything but a nightmare. Sure, he may have to use these early season games as de facto practices but he’s some smart and skilled players to work with.

“It speaks highly of the individual skills they have and also the time they’ve put in with their travel teams, I’m impressed with them and it makes my job easier,” Salfiti said. “I don’t have to explain specific things, it’s more reminding them in the flow of a game to tighten up, stay staggered or if the opponent is pressing one place, go around the somewhere else and they respond. It’s nice to know when I say something, they not only understand it but have the capacity to go and execute it.”

Plus, it turns out Salfiti and the Lions are a good match for each other. One thing Lower Moreland can really do is light up the lamp by scoring goals, as Wednesday night’s 13-3 win over Upper Dublin showed, but they needed some structure and discipline to go with it.

Salfiti has always been more defensive-minded and knowing he was going to have to manage games with his roster numbers meant his style would be a good fit. There will be nights where Lower Moreland will simply have to out-score opponents, but any opportunity to utilize the players’ skill in possession and puck movement won’t be wasted.

Even in the game where the Lions only had one extra skater, they still put 30 shots on goal, which Salfifi said spoke highly of their skill, but also the way they can protect the puck and work possession.

“Ideally, we come out strong and maintain it the rest of the way,” Salfiti said. “We want to play smart in the neutral zone and the defensive zone so we limit opportunities as we start to get tired, especially against bigger, faster and stronger teams.”

Peppelman, who is technically a defenseman but is also one of the team’s top scorers, said Salfiti’s arrival has been a major benefit to the Lions. The senior added that he really enjoyed the coaches of previous years but the structure and system this year has really benefitted the players.

Lower Moreland has toned down it’s over-aggressive physical play that sometimes hurt the team in years past in favor of smarter play on the defensive.

“Our team is pretty skilled, I played with a lot of these guys when I was younger so we have a good understanding how to work together,” Peppelman said. “The penalties have gone down a lot.”

While he has some rope to be an offensive threat, Peppelman doesn’t mind giving up the puck late in games, especially when opponents inevitably start to swarm him.

Freshman Tyler Scolnick had six goals against Upper Dublin while sophomore Vincenzo DeMaio added four. Peppelman scored two and assisted another and sophomore Noah Gazzara had the last score. Gazzara, normally a front-line skater, had to fill in as goalie during LM’s wild 10-9 win in the last second, just another example of how the Lions make the numbers game work.

“I’m still new to them, and not knowing them for very long, they have listened to me and respect I’m the coach,” Salfiti said. “Not that they didn’t have that before, but I’m asking them to do certain things and they’re responding, I think there’s a nice mutual respect. I help them out but they also help me out and I’ve really enjoyed it so far.”

Peppelman said the team has a really good dynamic with each other. Goaltender Jacob Lungin is only a freshman, as are forwards Alex Silverman and Nicholas Khimoian while defensemen Devin Green and Adam Bostock are sophomores.

Adam Rubinshteyn and Simon Pezalla are the squad’s other seniors. Even as his teammates filed out of the locker room, Peppelmen and a couple of guys exchanged joking barbs at each other, all punctuated with a laugh.

The Lions know they won’t win every game and that some nights, tired legs or a deeper team will catch up to them, but they still believe they can play good hockey throughout the winter.

“Our goal is to make the Flyers Cup,” Peppelman said. “I don’t know that we’d win it, but I don’t see any reason we can’t get in and be competitive against any other team that gets there.”

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