SA Ice Hockey: Bold Enough to Brave the Cold

Ella Sanfilippo and Ella Zhou

Frigid air, bad arena food, the ever-present stench of sweat – sounds like ice hockey! Every year, Sewickley Academy students brave these conditions and more to participate in this fast-paced team sport like no other.

Sewickley Academy Ice Hockey Coach Chris Chiusano, who has been coaching hockey for over 20 years, said, “There’s nothing like playing ice hockey; the moment an athlete puts on a pair of ice skates, it immediately separates them from all other athletes.  Skating is not a skill that people use every day (like walking or running), so it adds another element of difficulty to a sport that is fast paced, fluid, and very creative.”

The team practices at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center. The center is about a fifteen-minute drive from school, creating a completely different atmosphere from that of the sports that practice on campus.

“None of our practices or games take place on or near campus,” said senior and team captain Henry Meakem. “We also generally only have one ice time per week (ice time is always in high demand in Pittsburgh) so we only practice on ice once a week.”

Junior Chris Martian, who has been on the team for three years, said, “[During our practices,] [w]e usually start out with some kind of warm-up, which involves a lot of shooting on the goalie and passing. Later we practice systems, such as our defensive-zone breakout, powerplay, and penalty kill. The atmosphere is usually pretty focused.”

Aside from the unique challenge of having to travel to practice, many team members express that their experience with hockey has been unlike any other sporting experience at SA.

Sophomore and team manager Clare Chiusano said, “The ice hockey team differs from other sports because the boys on the team are with each other a lot longer than other teams.”

Ice hockey practices start in September, and the season doesn’t finish up until as late as the end of February.

“That’s about a five month long season, which is much longer in comparison to any other sport,” Chiusano said.

As Meakem said, “A lot about our team has remained the same since we started playing together in 5th grade. We all have embraced a culture of working hard based on our love for the sport.”

Participating in SA’s ice hockey team has effects on the lives of members not just on the ice but also off of it.

“I would say it’s made me a better person,” said Martian. “I’m more optimistic now because our team is usually the underdog, but we are usually able to pull off a few upsets each season. It’s also taught me the value of hard work.”

Coach Chiusano agrees, saying, “Being a part of a team teaches a lot of important lessons about life: teamwork, sacrifice, discipline, and accountability.”

Despite how much the team is loved by its players, there are concerns that it will no longer exist in the coming years.

Freshman Brendan Ohr explains, “[The team] had 9 seniors this year, and it is collapsing.”

Regardless of this prospect, over the years, the team has collectively shared numerous lasting memories and moments.

Coach Chiusano’s favorite team memory was “beating a heavily favored Bishop McCourt team in the first round of the 2017 playoffs in Johnstown at the War Memorial Arena .” The game ended with a final score of 4-1.

Martian agreed with his coach, saying, “Our goalie at the time, Cole Luther, played out of his mind and stopped upwards of 60 pucks. Nobody thought we had a chance of beating that team, but we pulled it off.”

Meakem said that this was also a cherished memory of his, explaining that before this game, the team hadn’t made Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League playoffs in 10 years.

In wrapping up season as successful as this year’s, Coach Chiusano emphasized, “I’m proud of our team and what we accomplished this year, especially the seniors who were instrumental in much of the success that the program has experienced over the course of my tenure as the head coach of the Sewickley Academy Ice Hockey Team.”