The young Steelers look to build off of last season

Youth movement

OBSERVER File Photo Above, Dunkirk-Fredonia Steelers’ defenseman Alex Rush carries the puck up ice during a game last season. This year Rush looks to be a key piece on the blue line for the Steelers.

The Dunkirk-Fredonia Steelers start their 2019-20 campaign with a slightly different script than they’ve seen over the last few years: A youth movement.

Only eight players, forwards Shaun McGinty, Cooper Harris, Zach Korzeniewski, Ethan Brunner, Dawson Bird, and Mike Norton, and defenders Alex Rush and Austin Rott return for the Steelers, who will see a high influx of sophomores flood the starting line up. Steelers’ coach Michael Rakoska knows the youth will have it’s pros and cons.

“This is one of the most talented squads we’ve had in a couple years,” said Rakoska. “Our gap from our top player to our bottom player isn’t very far. But we’re young. We have 10 sophomores, including both of our goalies. We have plenty of talent, but we’ll probably start off a little slow as the kids get up to speed.”

One benefit Rakoska has, despite the inexperience, is that most of the kids play hockey other places, not just for the Steelers, meaning Rakoska can focus less on skill development and more on implementing his schemes, which should be able to give the team a little bit of a boost in overcoming the potential growing pains.

Rakoska noted that his team is fast, which is certainly something that comes with youth. Between how USA Hockey and the AAU have adjusted the rules in regard to how physical kids can be, and his team’s speed, Rakoska forsees his team being difficult to play against.

“We’re very fast and have great skaters,” Rakoska said. “I’m blessed with a group of kids who can really move and it’ll be hard to keep up with us. And with how the rules have changed with them trying to prevent concussions, that should benefit teams with speed like us.”

Given the young team, Rakoska is expecting a lot of out of his returning players, and those that are returning are certainly reasons to be excited, but will also need to fill into the leadership roles.

“The ones that have been around for years will have to show these younger kids how to do it. The varsity game is a different game, there will be some adjustments to make,” Rakoska said. “Mike Norton will be a beast this year, Alex Rush will be an anchor. We do have a few good guys coming back.”

One other glaring difference the Steelers will see this year is in net. Both of last years goaltenders, Nick Novelli and Gabe Persch, graduated, meaning that the youth movement effects the goalies too. Enter sophomore Anthony Fitz-Gerald and freshman Tim Rasey, who may have some growing pains of their own.

“They’re both good for their age, but I think they’ll struggle early,” Rakoska said. “There will be shots they haven’t seen before, and the first six games will probably be a surprise. But they’re both hard working and intelligent, it’ll just take them a little bit to get adjusted.”

With the success the Steelers have had over the last few seasons, a large roster turnover perhaps comes at an inopportune time, but Rakoska sees this circumstance as a chance for his team to grow.

“We have a big shadow to live up to, but if this group comes together, either this year or next year, we’ll be a team to that is looked at to put another banner on the wall,” Rakoska said.

The Steelers first piece of action is Wednesday, Nov. 20.


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