The Quakertown Panthers (4-5, 4-3 SHSHL American) jumped out to a 6-0 lead last Wednesday in their 8-5 handling of William Tennent.
Tennent hockey is having a down year. But the win – Quakertown’s fourth in its last five games – is more evidence of the program’s eye-opening turnaround.
After introducing hockey three seasons ago, the Panthers won just three games over their first two-plus years. “But I knew what the returning pieces were, and with what we had coming in the pipeline that we were going to be pretty good,” said Panthers head coach Keith Krem. “We have a good freshman class that is talented on the front side. Matt (Krem) is a sophomore who can be pretty consistent between the pipes. I feel that way next year too. That balance is going to continue for another season.”
Quakertown opened a 7-0 lead en route to an 8-4 triumph over Tennent on Dec. 3. After next falling to first-place Abington, the Panthers put together arguably the best week in their young history.
On Dec. 15, Matt Krem stopped 33 of 34 second and third period shots, while four different Panthers lit the lamp in the third period to blow open the game as Quakertown beat Wissahickon 8-4. The Trojans were missing two key players, but Quakertown still avenged a 10-4 loss to Wissahickon in Week 2.
“We have the ability to score goals. For us, it’s how we play away from the puck,” Keith Krem explained. “That’s been the big discussion with all of the guys developmentally: you’re going to play a lot more of the game without the puck on your stick, so we’ve been focusing on our defensive play and our offensive play away from the puck and how we’re supporting each other. That’s paid off.
“I think you saw that in the Wissahickon game. Sure, we had some things in our favor in terms of who showed up but we also played well,” Krem concluded, “and took care of business.”
Two days later, Matt Krem stopped 41 of 43 shots as the Panthers topped Upper Dublin 4-2. The Flying Cardinals knotted the game at 2 late in the second period, but Corbin Cassel scored just seven seconds later to put Quakertown up for good.
“That moment is a prime example of where we’re more balanced,” Keith Krem explained. “We have guys like Anthony Paglieli and Mel(anie) Pezzano, who had a four-point night the other night, who are contributing. Then you have freshmen like Corbin who is a young, talented hockey player and was able to come up with a big moment.
“You win four out of five games, that’s a pretty consistent performance. It makes it not be a fluke,” Krem added. “I think when you are coming off of a couple of years that we’ve had, that’s what you want to prove to yourself: that this isn’t a fluke but this is something we can do consistently. We believe that we can put ourselves in a good position and hopefully put ourselves in the playoffs at the tail end of this thing.”
Many of the Panthers succeeding now as upperclassmen went through growing pains in those first two years. Pagliei and Will Shaw, both seniors, co-lead the team with seven goals each. Over the last five games, senior Jack Diliberto scored three times while classmate Aidan Castillo added four assists. Senior Pezzano, one of the few women playing in the SHSHL, had a monster four-point game last week against Tennent.
“We’ve got eight, and that’s almost half of our roster, who have been here for three years,” Krem noted. “I think it does mean a lot to that crew to see the growth after getting kicked around in Year One.”
Quakertown entered Thursday’s tilt with Abington having more wins in its last five contests than in the program’s first 32. The Panthers are above .500 in conference over halfway through the season.
“It’s why we started the program,” Krem said. “Most of the team has a travel hockey opportunity. It’s different to be able to play for your school, to sit next to your teammates in class or to have students say, ‘Hey, I saw you guys won’ or ‘I went to your game.’ You play school hockey so you can have that reward of representing your school, your friends and your community.
“For them to be successful, they can feel good about building the program but they aren’t just a building block,” Krem shared. “It’s something that they can own.”