By: Devon Moore
Friday, March 15, 2019 | 7:49 PM
If the Hampton hockey team experienced a range of emotions after its 4-1 playoff defeat at the hands of Latrobe, it probably is because the season featured a full range of highs and lows.
Emotional overtime wins against undefeated teams. Heartbreaking one-goal losses. Two three-game winning streaks. Two three-game losing streaks. Injuries, big comebacks and a tough start to the season.
But if the PIHL caught a glimpse of what Hampton (10-7, third Class AA Northeast) was capable of, it was Jan. 14 and Jan. 28.
The team defeated second-place Mars, 7-4, and handed Pine-Richland its only defeat of the year in a 4-3 overtime thriller.
“That couple weeks there we just clicked, and it was just incredible,” senior forward Michael Orban said. “We knew they wouldn’t be easy games. That PR game was just a crazy atmosphere as well. Sometimes, it’s just too little too late like the Latrobe game. It was a good year. It was fun.”
The team made big strides after starting the season 2-5. First-year coach Luke Leya kept patient with a group that featured a mix of elite talent and inexperience.
The top line, seniors Orban, Justin Adamski and Michael Commendatore, had seasoned veterans who play on club teams. Similarly, junior goalie Jake McGee was a three-year starter, and other players such as forward Luke Reiser and defenseman Will Meglio brought years of experience.
Orban finished third in Class AA with 48 points in 19 games. Commendatore finished eighth (37), and Adamski had 35 in 13 games to lead the league in points per game (2.69). He battled a wrist injury late in the season. Leya estimated he was less than 50 percent as he tried to power through the Latrobe playoff game, in which he sat out the third period.
On the other end, there were 10 first-time varsity players who needed to get up to speed.
“I commend the kids,” Leya said. “We battled all year. On paper, the first 25 percent of the season, it sure as (heck) looked like we weren’t going to make the playoffs. The biggest thing with them is we just bought in and believed. I think we overachieved with the group we had and how we finished.”
The season ended with a 4-1 loss at Latrobe in which Leya said the team was a bit nervous. The Talbots took 14 penalties and went down 2-0 after the first period and couldn’t get much traction. Still, the experience was worth remembering.
“They’ve probably got their whole town there,” Leya said. “Our kids have never been in an atmosphere like that. It was really cool just to be a part of, win, lose or draw.”
The team finished the season 2-3 after the Pine-Richland contest. Leya said they never could recapture the January magic because of injuries and other factors.
“Statistically, we had three or four (main) scorers, but every single kid on our team was a contributing factor in one way or another. … Coming off that Pine-Richland game, it was so emotionally rewarding for us. It was hard to ever get back to that point, honestly, looking back on it.”
Orban, who plays with Commendatore on the Armstrong Arrows, tried to take the growing pains in stride with the other veterans.
“It was a different year,” he said. “A lot of our players hadn’t been experienced. I think we all learned a little something about ourselves and about our team. I’m a competitor. Adamski, Commendatore is a competitor. We all want to win. In the end, we’re all family. We all go to the same school. We love each other. It was a fun year with the new guys.”
Looking ahead, Hampton might be even younger next year. It will lose seven of its top 10 scorers. But solid players such as junior Reiser will return, as will all-star McGee, who will look to establish himself as a top-tier goalie in the PIHL.
“I think it’s going to be an interesting year to see what the kids are made of from a development aspect,” Leya said. “I’m going to ask a lot from some younger guys to step into some roles they haven’t played before.
“If we can establish a consistent system and structure, we can certainly be competitive. I don’t think we can have a start like we did this season. We’re going to have to come out firing.”