Over the past two seasons, the Wildcats have started the season by taking a trip to Western Pennsylvania to play the Pittsburgh Predators. In two previous sets versus the Predators, the Cats split against their Pittsburgh opponents. Coach Pat O’Rourke’s team looks to change that with a home weekend series.
Coming off a 9-day hiatus following a 4-1 win versus rival Saint Edward, the Wildcats are determined to take two games from the Predators.
“We split with the Predators the first weekend of the season,” said junior defenseman Greg Langermeier. “It is going to be a hard-fought game. It will be a challenge, but we are up for it. Also, it was pretty physical when we played them the first time this season, so you can expect us to take the body every chance we get.”
As Greg said, these games will be physical. Most physical games tend to lean towards more penalties, and if the Wildcats have a power play, a key to the games is to strike. The Cats’ power play was a rough 1-for-9 against the Predators, as an Aidan Millett goal was the one power play tally.
The Wildcats have a 21% conversion rate on the power play this season.
While the power play has struggled at times, the penalty kill has been excellent. The Wildcats have prided themselves on their penalty killing abilities and stand above 90% on the season. In their most reason effort, the PK was 4-for-4 versus Saint Edward.
A positive sign for Wildcat fans was seeing an Aidan Millett goal versus Saint Edward. Millett has a knack for scoring big goals and his name always appears on the scoresheet when it matters most. Millett will be with fellow junior forwards Camden Kurtz and Alex Bilardo. Bilardo scored a highlight reel goal versus Saint Edward, while Kurtz picked up two assists.
Another Wildcat line that produced versus Saint Edward was the line of three seniors: Aedan Conway, Pat Eppich, and David Strick. Strick’s fast-paced play and penalty-killing skills have benefited the Wildcats all season. Strick helped to create the Wildcats’ first goal versus Saint Edward when he won a 50-50 puck in the corner. Strick’s corner win forced the puck to the point, and after a Charlie Klenkar pass to Michael Boehm, Aedan Conway tipped Boehm’s shot to Pat Eppich, who knocked it in the net.
“We split with these guys last time, and we know that we can play with them,” Eppich said of this weekend. “We have to go out there with confidence and take the first couple of goals and play some good transition hockey.”
This weekend, Wildcats fans will be treated to Zak Kovatch between the pipes, as Benny Savarino takes a breather. Kovatch enters the weekend games with a 1-0-0 record and a 2.94 goals against average. In Kovatch’s lone start of the season, he allowed two goals in a 7-2 win over the Pittsburgh Vengeance.
“I’m excited to be able to start, especially since I’m in the backup spot,” said Kovatch. “This is a huge opportunity for me to show what I can do. I always have to stay mentally prepared for when Coach calls my name.”
One of Kovatch’s main adversaries will be Jared Gerger. The Predators’ forward had a huge weekend against the Wildcats in November and has handled a bulk of the scoring alongside Ryan Brown.
The Predators enter the contest at a strong 16-10-4 mark on the season. Pittsburgh was somewhat idle in the later weeks of December, playing only four games in the month. In their four games since playing the Wildcats, the Predators are 2-2-0.
Saturday’s puck drop is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. at the John M. Coyne Recreation Center. Game two will be played Sunday at 11:00 a.m. at our home rink.
The SIBN will have all the coverage if you are unable to make it to the home games. Pat Keane ‘20 and Max Marazzi ‘20 will join me on the commentary.