Year concluded with Championship appearance
Every year as the season changes from summer to fall, it’s time for the staff in Pittston, PA. inside Revolution Ice Centre to dial in and prepare for the start of another long, daily journey that will take up the bulk of their year. A junior hockey season is full of ups and downs and knowing that you can’t expect everything, because anything can happen.
That said, Head Coach of the Eastern Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights, Josh Fusco, had one goal in mind from the start. “The goal from day one was to create a family with this group. I really wanted to dial in on personal growth and development, teach them the process of what it’s like to have hockey as a job, make it a priority, have them grow as a player and as an adult on and off the ice. Obviously I want to win, but I really needed to sit down and get a game plan for these kids as a team and individually to grow and develop and I knew if we could do that, the x’s and o’s would fall into place and the success of the team would come with it all.”
Family isn’t always perfect. Coach Fusco’s goal to create a family was certainly met with its’ typical family adversity. After the Knights lost the opening two games of the season, the club went on a five game winning streak. The following month, they found themselves on the opposite side of a five game skid.
“When I first came here, we were just an average team with tons of potential,” said forward Matt Mood. ” We didn’t have the best start but once the boys all started to buy into coach Fusco’s systems and played like we were all in this together, we really came around to be an amazing team. We peaked at the right time.”
Mood, a player who would commit to Chatham University in December, credits this team for helping him get to the next stage where he will play NCAA college hockey in the fall of 2019. “Playing on this team developed me into a more dynamic player, and going from wing back to center really helped me offensively finding the sweet spots.”
Though it was a positive for Mood to commit, the month of December had its’ negatives for the team as a whole. From late December into early January, the Knights had dropped four straight, bubbling as a .500 team that seemed stuck. Then, the spark was lit.
Wilkes-Barre bounced out of a skid with three straight wins, then after one loss, the team went on to post a season-best 10 game winning streak. This helped the Knights not only get into the playoffs, but finish as the 3rd seed where they would meet the Apple Core in round one, followed by besting the division-winning New Jersey 87’s in a three game series to advance to the EHL Frozen Finals.
“Our season had many ups and downs, but we never quit because of how our coach handled each day for us to achieve or learn,” said leading scorer, Hunter Bersani. “He held all of us to a very high standard which is where all of our personal success became team success. We went from struggling half way through the season to be an above .500 team, to one of the top four teams in the league and that is something no one can take from us.”
Though their trip to Providence for the Frozen Finals didn’t end the way they anticipated, the Knights turned a season around and became one of the league’s elite. This was the first time in the brief two year history of the EHL franchise that they made it to the Frozen Finals. To start the season with 17 other teams and finish among the final four is something to be admired. The season offered teaching points to all, including the coach himself.
“The journey no doubt helped me learn and develop,” said Fusco. “I spent many nights breaking video down and individualizing things of what I specifically needed to work on with each guy. It helped me deal with ups and downs of a season and to keep pushing myself to learn in order to help these kids learn. I have a lot to take away from this year and this team made me a better coach. I cant thank these kids enough for their hard work and dedication. They wanted to be here and they wanted to have success and it helped me as a coach. You have to keep going, be positive, take the bad times, the tough times, and work through and ultimately take risks, try new things and honestly know how to have fun. I had a lot of fun with this group.
“There are plenty of memories from this season that I will never forget,” said Mood. “We had a close group of guys in that locker room, we truly were brothers and would do anything to help each other. It was a special group.”
“All I can say is thank you to the staff, coaches, and teammates for making this the most exciting year of hockey I’ve ever played,” said Bersani.
“I think we turned a lot of heads and we were able to go to the finals,” said Stevenson University commit, Anthony Starzi. “Didn’t get the result we wanted, but it was a great experience and one I won’t ever forget. The younger guys definitely helped us get through the stretch and I think now that they know what it takes to get to the finals they will be able to take next years’ team to the distance again.
As several 1998 born players have skated in their final junior hockey games, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights would like to wish Hunter Bersani, Anthony Starzi, Matt Passaretti, Emerson Emery, and Zach Ouladelhadjamed the absolute best of luck in their future endeavors.