Off to an impressive start

For the last two seasons, the Dunkirk-Fredonia Steelers have had to win games in ugly fashion. Whether it be 1-0 or 2-1, offense was not the strength of the Steelers.

This season, the Steelers are winning pretty and have jumped out to an 8-2 start in the Western New York Club Hockey League, including a 9-1 victory over Springville-Pioneer on Saturday at Steele Hall.

Leading the offensive charge this season has been captain Matt Sheridan, who recorded a hat trick Saturday, along with an assist.

“He is a tremendous young man who does a great job leading the team,” Dunkirk-Fredonia coach Jay Bishop said. “He is one of these quiet leaders who leads by example. When he talks, everyone listens.

“We have a tremendous line in Matt Sheridan and Matt Szalkowski and Nick Formanowicz,” Bishop continued. “We want to stress getting scoring from all three lines, which we did today. Our top line has done a great job generating goals and the other lines have complimented each other well.

Alternate captains for the Steelers are defensemen Kyle Leysath and Ryan Sheldon.

“Kyle is our anchor on the blue line,” Bishop said. “He does a great job creating offense to defense. We can play him at offense or defense. We use him a lot on the power play. He is a fast skater and has really good hands.”

While the offense was a thing of beauty Saturday, the team defense has been the strength of the team, led by goaltender Jared Hebner.

“We lost seven seniors and one player to juniors,” Bishop continued. “We really had some rebuilding to do this year and with high school hockey, when you’re building a team, you start with a goaltender and move out. We are fortunate to have Jared Hebner as our goaltender. He is doing a tremendous job. He has the least goals against in our Division. He is a very strong goaltender and we really stressed team defense, which has helped. What speaks for our team is our goals against. We are really working on keeping the puck out of our net.”

With an 8-2 record, Dunkirk-Fredonia finds itself at the top of the division with St. Joes and Maryvale. St. Joes comes into Steele Hall today at 1:45 p.m.

“We are excited to be there, but what we keep stressing is even though we are playing the best hockey of the season right now, it’s not good enough,” Bishop said. “We have to continue to peak. Teams who peak at playoffs are successful down the road.”

A key reason for the Steelers’ success this season has been the fact the players have played together for so many years and the coaching at the younger levels has prepared these players for varsity hockey.

“Mark Formanowicz is our jayvee coach and I think he is doing a great job developing players for varsity,” Bishop noted. “We wanted to create a culture that high school hockey is the pinnacle of the NCCYHA and we want everyone in the association to make their goal to someday play varsity hockey. We have had some great coaches who have helped create that culture. We have created a high school program where the jayvee system is a great feeder program. I think a lot of good coaches throughout youth organizations are getting these kids ready for varsity hockey.”

Also on the coaching staff is Rod Sheridan who has worked with the defense.

As for Saturday’s game, Leysath had two goals while Nick Formanowicz, Trevor Grupa and Adam Dziduch each had a goal and an assist. Mike Meredith netted a goal for the winners. Mike Johnson and Ryan Meredith each had two helpers and Riley Harris had one assist in the win.

“I think this year I have been lucky,” Bishop said. “I have a great group of kids. The team character has been outstanding. They have come together as a family and as a team. We have had some obstacles, some adversity and some controversy. They have showed a lot of maturity and support for the team. I think that is tremendous. That’s what we want to teach these kids: life lessons from hockey.”