ASTON — Mike Graves, head coach of the Conestoga boys hockey team, said it’s hard to predict from season to season how a team will be, but he admits that he never would have predicted his team would be sitting near the top of the North division in the Central conference heading into the holiday break.
“It’s so tough from year to year, especially with us having such a young team last year and with so much turnover from year to year to predict where you’re going to be,” he said. “No, I probably wouldn’t have predicted us being at the top of our division at the break.”
Conestoga slipped into first place in the North with 12 points after a 8-2 win over Marple Newtown on Tuesday night at Ice Works.
The Pioneers are tied in points with Haverford High, but with a game-in-hand, though the Fords do play Wednesday night and could reclaim the spot.
“We just try to take it game-by-game,” Graves said. “We had a tough game against Downingtown West last week and played two good periods today. We started doing some bad things in the second, but hopefully we learn from it and continue to build and move forward.”
Conestoga came out to a quick lead, scoring three goals within the first five minutes and ending the first period with a commanding 5-0 lead off two goals from Mac Hamblett and a natural hat trick from Matt Cameron.
“(My success) has been with the help of my teammates, who are awesome,” Cameron said. “Mac Hamblett gets me the puck. It has been great.”
However, things started to slip in the late in the first and into the second period when Conestoga started making multiple trips to the penalty box, committing eight penalties through those two periods.
“There are times where a mentality like that can become contagious,” Graves said. “You have one or two bad penalties and the rest of the team thinks it’s okay and we got drawn in. Marple is a very physical team and they turned up the physical play and we started taking some bad penalties. Fortunately, we were able to correct it in the third period.”
The penalties led directly to allowing Marple Newtown back into the game as it capitalized on two power plays to pull within three goals and didn’t give Conestoga much of an opportunity to create scoring chances.
“We had a little talk in between periods and said the penalties needed to stop,” Graves said. “They did, which is great and a testament to them and the senior leadership buying in and rallying around and letting the kids know – they’re hearing it from the senior players and not just the coaches and the results showed.”
Conestoga was able to take back command of the game and tacked on another three goals from Will Delaney, Alex Lee and another from Hamblett to give him a hat trick as well.
The Pioneers will head into the holiday break with six wins – the same amount of wins Conestoga had over the past two years combined.
“The last couple of years we’ve had has been tough, but it’s awesome to be here now,” Cameron said. “The chemistry we have – all three lines are playing great (and) our goalies are stepping up big. It has just been a great year.”
Even with injuries plaguing the team, Conestoga has been able to fight through it and continue to pile on the wins, which they hope to continue to do after the break.
“We’ve had [Graham] Carpenter, one of our leading forwards, out with a lingering back issues that’s been longer than we anticipated,” Graves said. “We’ve got one of our top defensemen that has been out all year with a broken wrist. A lot of the guys are banged up – it’s a physical game. We’re not doing a tournament or anything over Christmas this year to give them some time off and to recover and hopefully make a good push in the second half.”