April 10, 1986
His hockey team had just been summoned off the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center ice, another concession to the Rec Center’s always cramped schedule. But as Upper St. Clair High School Coach Dave Hornack drinks in the atmosphere of the final days of this most successful season, he allows himself a second to gloat. Even after a less than outstanding practice. After all, his Panthers will play Conestoga for the Class AAA state title at 6 p.m. Saturday at Mt. Lebanon. “Oh, sure, it feels excellent,” he said. “The way we’re looking at it is this is finally our year to take a state championship. And the kids are obviously excited about it.” It has been a most productive year for Hornack, a first-year head coach who became a father six weeks ago. For many, those two events would suffice in themselves. Hornack inherited a talent rich team from his predecessor, Rich King. But last year the Panthers, who had dominated the South Hills Interscholastic Hockey League all season, ran afoul of rival Mt. Lebanon, who rode hot goalkeeping and outstanding offensive play to a 5-0 upset of Upper St. Clair. But they have played through some early and late season miseries, peaking to perfection in outscoring playoff opponents, 33-2, on the way to this matchup with Conestoga, from the Philadelphia suburb of Berwyn. Unbeaten (29-0) and defending state champion Conestoga. “They are a challenge,” Hornack said. “They’ve got a good, high-powered first line and their defense is their real strong point. What it is going to come down to is it’s hard to check those guys. It may come down to goaltending. “What I’ve heard is their closest game was a 4-2 victory (over Malvern Prep, another Philadelphia western suburban power). What I hear is that their defense doesn’t allow a lot of shots. We’ve been in tighter games, and maybe that can work to our advantage.” One of high school sports’ mixed blessings is a frequent lack of background on an upcoming opponent. An absence of power play conversion statistics, shooting and save percent- ages, and videotape studies of penalty killing tendencies of state tournament opponents are part of the blessing/curse of high school sports. All that Hornack knows is that Conestoga defeated Malvern Prep, 9-5, to earn the spot in the state final. But Hornack may know more than he thinks about the Pioneers. All he has to do is pore over his own roster. The identity is striking. “They have a high-powered first line with a dominant center (Dave Smink) just like we do,” Hornack said. “And they rotate their defense- men regularly. “Hopefully, it’ll be an even match and it will put a little pressure on their goaltender and we’ll get a chance to see how he responds. “I talked to Bob Nascenzi (Mt Lebanon’s coach) and he said the wings come up the boards and the center loops. That’s one of the things I’m going to nail down before Friday.
“But that represents a challenge. To do that, they’ve got to play pretty heavy defense. The object is not to just slap it up the boards, because otherwise, you wind up getting the pass intercepted.” Instead, Hornack knows, his talented defensemen and his own high- voltage line of the Shaffalo brothers Phil, and Pete, and Craig Cowan will have to stay in sync with the Panther defensemen. “There’s a lot more movement in what they do than anything we’ve seen,” Hornack said. “We’re used to having the wings pick up their wings. I don’t know that much about Smink somebody I know rattled off some stats. “I do know he’s scored 30-some goals. He’s like Phil. And they’ve got a good, big right wing on that line.” The games within the game. Beside the fond hope that Dave Pennell comes up big in the Upper St. Clair nets, Hornack said depth may be a key factor. “From what I hear their second line matchup with ours will be a key to the game. I look for it to be a back and forth type game. They’re going to be carrying the puck at us a lot, not just dumping it in.” But for Upper St. Clair, there is one final big incentive. In the past five years, eastern team have made off with the state title four times.
“That starts to get under your skin a little,” he said. “I feel we’re the best western representative possible this year and it’s our best shot at the title.”
CREDIT: The Pittsburgh Press
By Paul Smith