Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Hard Work Is Paying off for Paladins

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Hard Work Is Paying off for Paladins

Article excerpt

There was not a hint of hesitation in his voice. The question was posed. The answer was immediate.

What's the biggest reason behind Paramus Catholic hockey's undefeated start?

"Hard work," senior goalie John Pitera said. "This is probably the hardest working PC team I've seen since I've been here."

As cliche as it might sound, the Paladins have had no other choice but to up their work ethic.

Too much talent graduated. More talent transferred. And coach Keith Bland was dealt the difficult task of attempting to mold a young, inexperienced roster featuring only four seniors -- a roster he admitted was "rebuilding" this preseason -- into contenders.

The Paladins may still be, in fact, rebuilding. But it also appears they have reloaded.

At 9-0-1, the Paladins have emerged as the midseason frontrunner to capture the Big North Patriot Cup crown with a slew of underclassmen contributing.

"I wouldn't say I'm surprised," Pitera said. "But more so I'm just proud of the younger guys for stepping up. I think we've got a lot to prove. Everyone wrote us off with what we lost. But everyone's dialed in in that locker room right now."

Their headline victory was a 4-2 triumph over rival Ridgewood on Dec. 11 -- the same Maroons team that defeated the Paladins in the past two Patriot Cup finals. The win served as validation that PC must be taken seriously.

"We have some kids who were part of the final last year where we lost a lead in the third," Bland said. "It left a bad taste in our mouths. The last two finals is definitely something the kids keep in the back of their minds."

A talented mix of youth and experience has led to the unbeaten start -- the only minor hiccup being a 1-1 tie against Indian Hills on Dec. 30. The Paladins beat River Dell/Westwood, 4-1, in a league game Saturday night.

"I want us to be that hard-working team that is tough to play against," said Bland, echoing similar sentiments as his three-year starting goalie. …

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