Dan Madonna, left, and Tyler Riddle, have had a lot to celebrate for Springfield this year.
TIMES STAFF/ROBERT J. GURECKI
As you may have read in Saturday’s Daily Times, Springfield’s got a little bit of a different look this year. Part of that is out of necessity as the Cougars graduated three of their top four defensemen, including two-time All-Delco Kyle Laughlin, and a superb goalie in two-time All-Delco and 2010-11 Daily Times Player of the Year Mike Rice. Springfield used to be just fine thank you very much with winning games 2-1, 3-2, 2-0. But this year, it’s been a little bit of a different look. The Cougars are fully embracing fire-wagon hockey and really, why not? The top line of Kyle Riddle, All-Delco Ryan Brawley and Tom Coll has been firing on all cylinders. The trio has combined for 26 goals and 28 assists in Springfield’s (5-1-1) seven games. While that top line has been doing serious damage, though, Springfield’s also been getting strong secondary scoring. Freshman Tyler Riddle lit up Penncrest for his first career hat trick in a 7-4 win, Nick Biehl is averaging better than a point per game and defenseman Billy Swahl is averaging a point per game, a superb figure for a blueliner.
“The team, we play a certain system, and I just follow it and good things happen,” the elder Riddle said of his hot start. “I’m not kind of like a defensive player, but when I have to, I need to play ‘D’. (Our explosiveness) makes us unbelievably dangerous.”
It sure does. The Cougars trailed a good Lions team, 3-2, midway through the second period, but erupted for four goals in a four-minute, two-second span. It’s that type of explosiveness that makes no lead a safe one against Springfield and a big reason why they’ve been at the top of the Central League despite a lot of diversity across the board with the other teams. Most games in league play have been a coin flip with how balanced things are, but that hasn’t been the case with Springfield. The Cougars’ lone loss came to Class AAA Cardinal O’Hara. Springfield has its hands full tonight against a solid Haverford team, though.
For Brawley, who broke out as a freshman in the Flyers Cup run and emerged as one of the county’s best a year ago, the extra defensive attention paid to him hasn’t slowed him down or fazed him. While Kyle Riddle leads him by a point for both the team and league lead in points, there’s little doubt Brawley is the straw that stirs the Cougars’ drink. When he’s on the ice, the puck gravitates to his stick and he’s seemingly always able to create opportunities for him and his teammates. Brawley is the type of player that does everything so well, and while he’s not exceptionally flashy, his full impact can’t be quantified in stats, as good as they may be.
“I’m just trying to play my game every day and just bring it with my line,” Brawley said. “Just trying to help my team out and get some goals.”
While the Cougars were able to put seven past sophomore first-year starter Jake Branyan, there’s a lot to like about the Lions’ new starting goalie. He kept the game close early and while he’s still adapting to a new defensive corps, he was much, much better than the final stat line would indicate. He’ll be a big reason why the Lions contend for the league title again. At the opposite end of things, forward Nate Chuckran was very good for the Lions. Also a sophomore, Chuckran has good size, good wheels and a nose for the net. He scored his second goal by driving hard to the net and got a nice reward for it, and his potential is very, very high.
Defensively, I really liked Kevin Dougherty, and not just because he had two goals. He moves the puck well, sees the ice well and offers the Lions some versatility. He’s one of the forwards moved back to defense by coach Steve Mescanti out of sheer necessity and Penncrest will need a lot from him this year.
How about Upper Darby’s effort of late? The Royals have been on fire, and even more impressive is the fact that they just brought back their program a year ago. Since being on the wrong end of an ugly 8-2 loss to Ridley, UD has rolled off six straight wins to vault itself into the No. 1 spot of the Central League’s B Division. The offensive balance from the Royals, though, has been nothing short of superb. They already have five players with double-digit points, led by James Fitzgerald‘s 21 points and 18 points from Joe Pozzuolo. Michael Strofe and the DeSimone brothers, Dante and Anthony, have also contributed a ton of offense. With that type of firepower, UD will be a tough out for anyone come playoff time.
Think Haverford coach John Povey missed having Kevin Leyden in the lineup? The three-sport standout recently joined the Fords’ lineup after resting a shoulder injury in a football season where he earned All-Delco honors, and his impact has been immediate. He had two goals in his first game of the year, a 5-1 rout of Cardinal O’Hara, and he’s already third on the team in scoring with four goals and an assist in three games.
“He’s unbelievable,” Povey said of Leyden. “He’s just so athletic. He does things that no one else does and he’s not even a club player. His first shift of the year he scores a beauty of a goal. He plays power play, even strength, penalty kill, just does everything. He’s my best offensive player and my best defensive forward.”
– MATT CHANDIK