MOUNT VERNON – Winning is a habit for Pelham.
The history of success is also the primary source of concern for longtime head coach Ed Witz, whose team has captured three consecutive Section 1 titles. A chilly dose of reality was injected each time his team huddled up at the Ice Hutch on Monday, the first day of practice for Section 1 hockey teams.
And there will be a multitude of reminders along the way.
“The seniors have won three Section 1 titles and you have to guard a little bit against them starting to believe it’s automatic,” Witz said. “Everybody makes assumptions in their lives when something happens every day, but you still have to do the work.
“Whatever happened in the last year, the last two years, the last three years means nothing in 2016-17. They have to understand they actually have to go out and do the work. It’s not going to be easy.”
Despite the success, this group is a little grumpy.
A state title was certainly the goal each of the last three seasons, but Pelham has not cleared that hurdle.
“We’re more experienced this year,” defenseman Gib Smith said. “We’ve gotten so close the last couple of years, I think we’re more motivated. We have a lot of guys who compete hard and want to win.”
And they are usually a patient bunch.
“We can’t focus on the regional game and getting to states,” said forward Ben Hurd, who is the reigning Journal News/lohud Player of the Year. “We have to win sectionals first to get back to that point. … We don’t care what our record is. We’re more concerned about being the best team we can be going into playoffs.”
The biggest losses to graduation are defenseman Nick Davidow and goalie A.J. Gugliara. Only two forwards are gone from the top three lines. Justin Ming and Liam Ronan are battling for time in net.
“We’ve got two guys that I’m projecting will be able to play,” Witz said. “We are usually a one-man show, but it might be different.”
Nat Heintz and Stefan Miklakos are the other standouts coming back up front.
There is plenty of depth and experience returning. Witz is likely going to carry 20 or 21 players this season. And the schedule is dialed back. The Pelicans will be venturing upstate in search of quality opponents, but they will spend more time at the Ice Hutch.
With the new power leagues, there will be very few easy wins.
“The difficult schedule puts us in tough situations and we learn a lot from those games,” Smith said. “It gets us ready to compete at the end and be at our best.”
Pelham opens the season Nov. 26 at Suffern.
A number of upstate powers are coming to the Ice Hutch for the second year in a row to play some of the section’s best Dec. 9-11. McQuaid, Ithaca, Niagara-Wheatfield, Williamsville-East and Sweet Home are on the bill along with Scarsdale, Rye, Suffern and the Pelicans.