Bulldogs hockey to lean on Coppola, Tartaglione this season | Local Sports

After not making the playoffs for the first time in head coach Jamie Plunkett’s career during the 2020-21 season, the Meadville Bulldogs hockey team found its way back to the postseason last year.

However, the Bulldogs’ trip to the playoffs didn’t last long after losing 5-2 to Penn Trafford in the first round. The Bulldogs finished with an overall record of 21-19-1.

Plunkett’s goal is to be one of the top eight teams in AA and make it back-to-back postseason trips.

“Making the playoffs is my first immediate goal,” said Plunkett, who’s entering his 36th season as Meadville’s head coach. “There are 11 AA teams, so you play each team twice. You play the 10 other teams twice and I think it’s gonna be really tough to make the playoffs this year. There’s a lot of parity. There’s a lot of good teams at the AA level.

“You play in 20 games, 10 home, 10 away, and every point counts,” Plunkett said. “Last year, we had a chance to help ourselves and give ourselves a better positioning and we never took advantage of it.”

If the Bulldogs want to make it back to the postseason, they’ll have to find a way to replace the scoring production of last season’s leading scorer, Michael Mahoney. Mahoney tallied 57 goals and 43 assists for a total of 100 points during his senior campaign last year.

“Nobody’s going to replace him,” Plunkett said. “We’ve had a few of those types of players over the years and he was a special player, could do things that not many others could do. With Michael gone now, we’re gonna have to rely on several different players to contribute.”

One of the players who is primed to make plays with the puck is junior forward Rocco Tartaglione, who was the team’s second-leading scorer with 30 goals last season. Tartaglione added 32 assists for a total of 62 points.

“There’s a few guys that feel we’ve got a lot of points to make up with the loss of Michael Mahoney,” Plunkett said. “Rocco last year playing with Michael probably had more freedom than he’s gonna have this year because teams concentrated on covering Michael, which left Rocco to have a little more room to move. I suspect this year teams will try to focus their defensive coverages on Rocco.”

Mahoney and Tartaglione played together on the first line last year. Now that Mahoney is gone, Tartaglione has been playing with Trevor Kessler on the first line during the preseason. Tartaglione, Kessler and Zach Schepner make up the Bulldogs’ offense on their top line.

While he has a reliable first line, Plunkett would like to see some offensive production from his other lines as well. Plunkett thought the second line of Sam Engels, Preston Phillis and Alex Burgess played well together during the team’s final preseason game against Peters Township. Plunkett also has been using Cam Arpin, Phillip Pandolph, Robert Mahoney and Chris Costa on his third line.

“(Mahoney and Tartaglione) had a lot of chemistry,” Plunkett said. “Through the month of September, Trevor Kessler and Rocco played together in just about every game and those two guys have really started off well, a lot of chemistry between the two of them. Now my challenge is to try to find another line to contribute offensively. I think at the high school level to be successful, you have to have two lines that can score because if you don’t have, it’s too easy for the other team to try to shut you down. Then, where’s the offense gonna come from? It’s not a given that your top offensive line is gonna have a good night every night. There’s gonna be nights where they struggle or just bad luck whatever, so you need scoring depth.”

On the defensive side of the rink, senior goalie Sam Coppola is back with the ‘Dogs. Coppola recorded a .920 save percentage and a 3.22 GAA last season.

“You can make an argument as Sam Coppola goes, we go,” Plunkett said. “He was brilliant the other night against Peters Township. I feel good about our goaltending. AJ Fuller has come a long way, he’ll be backing Sam up. Last year, he had a great year. His numbers were terrific, but he just needs some help. We can’t give up 50 plus shots as many times this year as we did, so we’ve gotta be better in that aspect.”

The Bulldogs’ defense is led by senior Ethen Konetsky and juniors Matt Kaste, Ben Hilson and Jake Friters. Plunkett also expects Paul Phillis, Cole Sobolewski and Jay Fadden to see some time on the ice.

Besides finding more help for Coppola defensively, Plunkett thinks the team needs to lessen the number of penalties it takes and improve on penalty killing.

The Bulldogs’ defense will be put to the test against Thomas Jefferson in the season opener tonight at the George S. DeArment Ice Arena at 7:45 pm The Jaguars lost to Pennridge in the state championship game in double overtime by a score of 4- 3.

“They represented the west last year at the state championship game,” Plunkett said. “They lost in overtime at the state championship game, so we’re not getting an easy task. It’s gonna be a difficult task (tonight) playing Thomas Jefferson.”


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