After tough stretch, Plum hockey rebounds to get back in playoff chase

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Sunday, January 16, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Plum ice hockey players knew what it felt like to be in a close game as they skated against Chartiers Valley on Jan. 10 at Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center.

In the previous three contests, the Mustangs were right there down the stretch only to fall by one goal to Blackhawk and Hampton — both 2-1 scores — and to Fox Chapel by a 3-1 count, with the Foxes getting the final goal with less than two minutes left in the third period.

But Plum turned its fortunes around against the Colts and rallied from an early deficit for a 3-1 victory.

“That was a huge two points for us,” said coach Phil Mains, whose team improved to 4-8 with the victory and pulled into a tie for third place with Freeport (eight points) in the Northeast Division of Class A.

“It felt great, a big relief. It kept us in the playoff hunt. The three previous games were also close, and I gave the same second intermission speech. It came down to the third period, and we asked them who wanted it more. It came down to taking care of the little things. We hadn’t had many bounces go our way, and we know we have to work and earn those bounces. Hopefully, that win (over Chartiers Valley) is the start of a nice run that will get us over the hump.”

The Mustangs were to face a stiff challenge Monday against McDowell (6-5) at Pittsburgh Ice Arena.

Mains said goaltending has been a strength with giving up just the eight goals in the four-game stretch that concluded with the Chartiers Valley win.

“It’s pretty safe to say that we have the best goaltending duo in the league between (senior) Sam (Pine) and (junior) Kaleb (McCabe),” Mains said. “They’ve both been phenomenal. Sam’s leading the league in save percentage (.947). With that, we are going to be in every game. That can give us confidence where if we can find the back of the net a couple of times, we’re going to have a good chance to win.”

Also on the docket for Plum is Thursday’s game against Beaver at Bradys Run Park Ice Arena, and Mains said his players need to be wary of the Bobcats, who will clawing for a victory after starting 0-13.

Mains hopes sophomore defenseman Mason Wilkes (wrist) will be able to return to the lineup in a couple weeks after a targeted treatment regimen has concluded.

The forecast is not as bright, Mains said, for experienced junior forward Zach Miller (back stress fracture), who could miss the rest of the season.

Miller scored four goals and added two assists this season. Wilkes has manned the back line and also picked up an assist.

“With guys like Zach and Mason, we were able to put some of the younger guys in situations and let them get their feet wet a little bit,” Mains said. “Once the injuries occurred, they shifted to a little more ice time than they probably were expecting. But they’ve done great.”

Mains said he’s been impressed with the work of the freshman line of a Nick Majors, Rylan Schoonover and Brody Howell.

Schoonover led the team with seven goals through the Chartiers Valley win.

“We told them that they are not really freshmen anymore as much as they’ve played this year over 12 or 13 games, plus all the work in some preseason games,” Mains said.

“When Zach went down, we were trying to find some combos that could work, and those three kept doing good things. It’s been fun to see them just play and learn. That has allowed us to put a little more experienced line together with (senior) Max (Weingrad) centering (sophomore) Travis (Marks) and (junior) David Westbrook, and (sophomore) Adam Varner and (sophomore) Talon Hamer working through on that line.”

Marks and senior defensemen Parker Gable and John Hanlon scored goals against Chartiers Valley. Gable’s tally gave him five goals on the season to go along with five assists.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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