For more than a decade, the Greater Latrobe hockey team has been a powerhouse in PIHL Class AA.
That’s all coach Josh Werner can ask for.
The IceCats are at it again in Werner’s fifth season as head coach, a perfect — and dominant — 8-0 as the top team in the classification.
“The biggest thing is being consistent, and we’re consistently in the race,” Werner said. “Anything can happen at any time.
“We want to be consistent in how we play and how we practice, and I’m very happy with our situation right now. Everyone is playing great.”
Greater Latrobe has won eight consecutive games in lopsided fashion this season. The IceCats routed the opposition in all eight regular-season games. They’re currently 8-0 and have outscored the opposition, 55-5, scoring an average of seven goals, and allowing less than a goal per game.
That’s the best goal-differential of any team in Class AA, ahead of Baldwin’s 45-12 margin. The IceCats have scored at least six goals in all eight games. They’ve hit seven goals in six of eight games.
“To be honest, I expect that,” Werner said. “These boys work hard and we’ve been preaching since day one that we need to be a good team defensively.
“This group is willing to give it all for each other. They’re not afraid to block shots and put their body on the line. That’s what we want.”
Werner also spoke of consistency for his group this year, which reached the semifinal round of the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup playoffs last season before falling to Pine-Richland, the eventual Class AA state and Penguins Cup champion.
“We want to be consistent on how we play no matter who we’re playing or whether it’s 8-0 or 10-0,” Werner said. “We’re taking it one step at a time, and if that leads us to the playoffs, a division title, Penguin Cup or state championship…whatever it might be, we don’t look too far ahead other than the next practice or opponent.”
Greater Latrobe has won four Class AA Pennsylvania Cup state titles and Penguins Cup championships since 2008. That’s the most in Class AA during that span.
It’s tied for the most in the state overall and tied for the second-most in Penguins Cup history. GL won three consecutive state and Penguins Cup titles from 2008-10 and another in 2013.
“The boys are practicing hard, we’re playing hard and the end result is what we want,” Werner said. “We want to be a team that’s tough to play against. We want to be a team that can put totals on the board.
“We want to be consistent in how we play every game, no matter the opponent. That’s the one thing the leadership group and seniors have really believed in and they’re kind of showing the underclassmen the way. It has been working out great for us, I think.”
Greater Latrobe is coming off a season in which it advanced to the semifinal round of the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup playoffs.
The IceCats advanced to the Class AA Penguins Cup semifinals for the seventh time since the 2007-08 season and the first since the 2016-17 campaign, when they reached the championship game.
The IceCats reached the semifinals one year after winning a division title and graduating nine seniors, including all four of their captains. This season, the IceCats return eight of their top 10 leading scorers.
“I think the biggest thing is we’re playing together as a team,” Werner said. “Having a big senior class that’s been there three years, they’ve gone through playoff losses. There have been tough situations that might not have gone in our favor, so it’s nice to have that experience.
“I think the boys are just playing together. They’re hungry, they’re motivated and I think it’s showing right now.”
Lane Ruffner is the GL captain this season, while Jarred Stein is the home and away assistant captain. The home assistant captain is Cole Ferri and the away assistant is Alex Walker.
“Those boys are our captains,” Werner said. “They lead by example and they’re captains for a reason. They’ve earned that title.”
Ferri is second in Class AA scoring with a league-best 14 goals and 26 points while Walker is third, one back of his teammate with nine goals and 25 points.
Dating back to last season, Walker has 20 goals and 61 points during a 23-game scoring streak. Walker, who finished fifth in Class AA scoring last season, has 13 goals and 42 points in his last 14 games played.
Ferri, who is riding a 12-game scoring streak, has 22 goals and 43 points in his last 19 games. Stein has points in 16 of his last 20. He has 11 goals and 19 points in his last 14 games.
“They’re playing lights out and they’re motivated,” Werner said. “They want to lead by example. They’re hungry and the way things ended last year isn’t the way we want to end things.”
Stein is currently fourth on the team with seven goals and 12 points. Alex Schall is third on the team with eight goals and 16 points. He opened the season on an eight-game scoring streak and he’s tied for 10th in Class AA scoring.
Schall has points in 11 of his last 12 games with 10 goals and 19 points during that span. J.S. Florek has six goals and 12 points, with points in six of eight games played, while Josh Martino also has four goals and nine points. Colten McCutcheon also has three goals and six points in eight games, as 11 players have scored goals and 17 have registered points.
Greater Latrobe goaltenders Greg Irons and Vinny Amatucci have also been among the best in Class AA.
Irons and Amatucci have combined for five shutouts in eight games. The IceCats had two shutouts in the first three games, and they’ve currently blanked their last three opponents, a streak of 233 minutes and nine periods without allowing a goal.
“Those two guys compete every practice,” Werner said. “They bring their ‘A’ game whether it’s a practice or a game. They’re great goalies, they work hard, they deserve their starts and they earn their starts.”
Amatucci and Irons both have four wins this season. Amatucci has allowed two goals on 81 shots and Irons three on 59 shots faced. Amatucci has a Class AA-best 0.50 goals-against average, a .975 save percentage and three shutouts while Irons right behind with a 0.75 goals-against average, a .949 save percentage and two shutouts.
Irons went a perfect 7-0 last season with a Class AA-best 1.00 goals-against average, three shutouts — also tops in the classification — and a .947 save percentage in 357 minutes.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how they’re playing right now,” Werner said. “It’s a testament to our team defense. We’re working hard and three shutouts in a row proves it.
“It’s tremendous defense plus a good goalie making timely saves. As a unit and a team we’re all on the same page.”
Last season, Greater Latrobe was in a seven-team division that included Upper St. Clair, Franklin Regional, Hempfield Area, Baldwin Area, Penn-Trafford and Plum.
The IceCats are now in a division with Franklin Regional, Penn-Trafford and Hempfield Area. The top two teams in each division qualify for the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup playoffs.
“We play Franklin Regional twice and each of the other teams one more time,” Werner said. “Anything can happen.
“I like the competitive nature of it and during the regular season, it gives us a little more to play for. It definitely isn’t over and nothing is guaranteed. We have to keep working hard.”
The classifications realigned this season with the biggest change coming at the top. Pine-Richland, Class AA champion, and Upper St. Clair, the runners-up, both moved to Class AAA, meaning there’s going to be a new champion and runner-up this season.
The IceCats want to be the last team left standing this season.
“I think Class AA is one of the most competitive divisions out of all of them,” Werner said. “There’s going to be two new teams playing for the championship and there’s no reason it can’t be us.”
Greater Latrobe Roster
— Nick Byrd, Cole Ferri, J.S. Florek, Darick Hrtyanski, Greg Irons, Ean Lamolinara, Josh Martino, Colten McCutcheon, Lane Ruffner, Jared Stein.
— Dalton Lute, Allen Rider, Alex Schall, Alex Walker.
— Vinny Amatucci.