WEST GOSHEN — It has been quite a while since the Conestoga boys ice hockey team has been so elated.
And they had every reason to be after a 7-1 opening night win over Penncrest at Ice Line on Monday night.
“It was a good start,” said Conestoga coach Mike Graves. “We’ve had some long seasons these last couple of years. We have a real young team — with the core being sophomores — and they’re starting to come into their own.”
Over the previous two seasons combined, Conestoga has had a record of 6-28-2.
In 2014-15 alone, the Pioneers only amassed two wins total.
“To come out there opening night and win 7-1 shorthanded is unreal,” said defenseman Alex Lee. “It really is. We won two games last year. What a difference a year can make.”
Leading the charge for Conestoga was forward Matt Cameron, who tallied four goals in the game, and goaltender Luke Turner.
“Luke got kind of thrown into the starting job last year as a sophomore,” Graves said. “He’s had to fight with senior Luke Robbins and now freshman Malcolm Roeder for the position as a junior. He had a pretty good game tonight and held his own.”
Even with a tough season last year, Turner has been able to elevate his game coming into his junior year.
“My confidence has definitely built up, especially being surrounded by a team like this,” he said. “We have great chemistry and great leadership. I think it’s going to be a great season overall.”
Though his coach praised his work, Turner was quick to deflect his play to the teammates in front of him.
“I have to give it all to my defense,” he said. “They played really well. The score wouldn’t be what it was without them. They stopped a couple breakaways and stopped a couple of backdoors. It wouldn’t have been anything without them.”
Conestoga may feature a very young team, with 11 of the 20 players on the roster being underclassmen (nine alone are sophomores), but many of the players aren’t new to playing at a high level of hockey.
That alone may help Conestoga have one of its best seasons in a long time.
“A lot of them are all playing club hockey, too, and are good athletes in general,” Graves said. “Ever since August minicamp, they’ve been working hard and want to learn and want to get better. They’re all competitive kids. I don’t think they liked only having two wins in all all of last season. They’re good kids and work hard. They’re a pretty focused, determined group.”
The players left the locker room beaming after the game — a sight Graves is happy to see, but he doesn’t want there to be any hangover from the huge win.
“There is always room to improve,” Graves said. “We haven’t been on this side of a win like this in a long time. The message was to be happy with it and enjoy it tonight, but be ready to practice and work to get better.”