A common saying in hockey circles is ‘A goaltender is a team’s last line of defense.’ Emmett Kepniss took that mindset to a new level Thursday night.
Kepniss is Upper Dublin’s starting and only goalkeeper. It was his presence alone that allowed the Flying Cardinals to face Souderton in what was their first official SHSHL game since the 2018-19 season.
The Big Red prevailed 7-2 in the non-conference matchup, but in a way, Kepniss was the most important player on the ice.
For two seasons, Upper Dublin was barred from SHSHL play because they were considered impure; the club had to look outside the its student population to find a goaltender. This season, Kepniss answered the call.
The senior has an athletic background; he was a two-way lineman in football and is a midfielder in lacrosse. But, despite being a lifelong hockey fan, he had never been on skates until a few weeks ago when he was approached by some of his fellow seniors who were on the hockey team.
“They were trying to get someone in the school,” Kepniss said. “My girlfriend’s dad runs the club, He approached me, I talked to him further, and now I’m here.
Prior to Thursday’s game, Kepniss had several practices plus two scrimmages to get a sense of what playing in goal is all about. On game night, he experienced live fire.
“It’s a lot faster,” he said. “You have to be quicker on your feet. In practice, there’s a little more leeway because it’s your team. But (Thursday’s game) counts so you kind of have to play your best hockey and give it your all really.”
Which Kepniss did. He had some early jitters and allowed three goals in the first period on seven shots but gradually grew more comfortable and made several quality stops later in the game. He finished the evening with 23 saves.
“I told the guys I was going to get nervous a little bit,” he said. “It was the first game but …. The guys told me ‘Don’t worry about it.”
Upper Dublin coach Anthony Richichi praised Kepniss’s effort. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to have Emmett as our goalie,” he said. “he showed up, completely volunteered, and, with limited practice time, has worked really hard.
“Obviously, he’s hot some work to do but we as a team, we need to understand our roles in supporting him.
Liam O’ Neill and Nick Smith each scored twice for Souderton
Souderton 3 2 2—7
Upper Dublin 1 0 1—2
First-period goals: Liam O’ Neill (S) from Anthony Lanzilotti, 3:40; Jamie Avaria (S) unassisted, 7:01; Tim Alexander (S) unassisted, 9:33; Kevin McGinley (UD) from Gus Plat, 11:20
Second-period goals: O’Neill (S) unassisted, 5:58; Nick Smith (S) from Evan Thacker, 14:54 (pp)
Third-period goals: Alexander (S) unassisted, :25; Marco Morina (UD) from Louis Gamburg and Jonah Fisher, 3:40; Smith (S) 13:28.
Shots: Souderton 30, Upper Dublin 33; Saves: Liam Kelly (S) 31, Emmett Kepniss (UD) 23