North Tonawanda has relied on its talented sophomore goalie Kyle Painter this season. (Photo by Jeff Barnes)
Never say die and keep pushing forward is the mind set of the North Tonawanda Lumberjacks as they make their way through the 2012-13 WNY Federation Hockey season.
In their fifth season in the Fed after a long, successful run in the club hockey ranks that included multiple Large School Super Sunday titles, NT is slowly but surely beginning to build a new legacy.
In Division III with Hamburg, Kenmore West, St. Francis and West Seneca West, the Jacks had a very respectable showing last year as they came in third with a 4-6-3 record.
Leading the way for the Jacks this year have been captain Andrew Walck and sophomore goalie Kyle Painter.
Leading the league in minutes played, Painter has been the model of consistency between the pipes for NT. Jacks coach Alan Zbytek said the biggest difference on the ice this season compared to last is last year they had a 1-2 punch.
This year it’s all on Painter’s shoulders.
“We knew we were going to have to play a more defensive style and just hope we have some odd-man rushes and have a strong power play to compete with teams,” Zbytek said.
“We knew our goalie is a top quality goalie, but we’d be shorthanded as far as depth at goalie. So we knew we needed to be stronger defensively.”
Zbytek, who is in his second year coaching the Jacks, said that he couldn’t ask for anything more from Painter who has been brilliant in the crease.
“Kyle is an exceptional goalie. He’s really quick side-to-side and he’s got a good head for the game,” Zbytek added. “He sees the play well, sees the puck well. Moves it before the (opposing) forwards can get into our defensive zone, so he’s really aware. He has good hockey sense.”
“Being our only goaltender we rely on him heavily and he has come through,” he added. “He’s a quality goaltender and with him only being a sophomore I’m hoping we can have him play for us for the next couple of years.”
Walck, who is scoring at a point a game clip, has given the Jacks the presence of a reliable offensive weapon who can also open lanes and chances for others.
“Andrew is a big-bodied kid,” Zbytek said. “He’s 6-foot-3 and he adds a lot of physical presence
up on the forward lines for us. He’s a good face-off man because’s he’s strong on the puck.”
Zbytek added that shifting Connor Hughes from defense to forward has been a success as Hughes’ size and scoring touch now gives the Jacks balance in their top two lines.
Sam Rydzewski has also been key up front, while Griffin Spatorico has anchored the defense, especially since Hughes moved to forward.
Zybtek said that he feels that Painter gives them a fair chance to win every night. Toss in some timely scoring, and if everyone is playing their best as individuals within the team system, then they could very well pull off an upset or two come playoff time.
“From the beginning of the year our goal has been we need to be playing our best hockey come playoff time,” he said. “Going in we had a lot of different things we needed to improve and we wan to go out every practice and every game to work on something that we can work on until the last game.”