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Portledge relies on its forechecking to set tone

When the Portledge boys ice hockey team takes the ice, expect to see a lot of forechecking.

"I like to employ a very aggressive style of play," Panthers fourth-year coach Jon Sandos said. "We ask our guys to cut down our opponent's time and space. Try to be in their face all night long."

Portledge opened its first season in the six-team Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic with a 3-2 record. The Panthers play again next Wednesday against Hill School in Pennsylvania.

Sophomore left wing Sam Sternschein leads the team in scoring with five goals and four assists, and junior center Sel Narby is third with three goals and three assists.

"He plays well above his size," Sandos said of Narby, who stands 5-6, 140 pounds. "He has a great motor that never stops on the ice. He gets up for every game no matter who the opponent is."

Sternschein, who is verbally committed to Cornell, is a "very skilled player that is gifted with the puck," Sandos said. "He has a knack for scoring big goals."

Sandos said injuries to his collarbone, groin and shoulder slowed Sternschein last season, yet he was able to gut it out and score 11 goals in 14 games during the Panthers' independent league play.

Now that he's healthy, Sternschein is capitalizing on Narby's passes. The two are showcased on the same line.

"Narby is the aggressive forechecker that battles for loose pucks and when he wins it, he feeds Sternschein, who finishes," Sandos said. "The X-factor for us is aggressive forechecking, which is a group effort. All five guys are expected to do it and buy in."

Count senior defenseman Joe Maguire and junior defenseman Joe Duszak in that mix. Maguire uses his size and tremendous skating ability to control plays, whereas Duszak runs a solid power play unit.

Duszak is the Panthers' second leading scorer with four goals and four assists.

Portledge, an independent college-preparatory day school in Locust Valley, and Sandos are proud of the work put in by two former players who are excelling at the amateur level for USA Hockey.

One is junior left wing Jeremy Bracco, who is the leading scorer on the U17 team, and the other is senior forward Sonny Milano, who is the leading scorer on the U18 team. Bracco, of Freeport, is committed to Harvard and Milano, of Massapequa, is committed to Boston College.

"It proves that what we're doing here is successful," said Sandos, who will lead the Panthers against the likes of Princeton Day School, Hill School, Lawrenceville School, Wyoming Seminary School and La Salle College High School this season.

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