Division title within reach for Quaker Valley hockey

Friday, February 14, 2020 | 7:46 PM

The race for PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA playoff spots is finishing in a frenzy.

Quaker Valley is just happy to have some control in what could become an ultra-tight Northwest Division. Only two teams from each division earn playoff spots. The Quakers (7-7-3, 17 points) lead the division with one game left. A win over Mars in the finale Feb. 27 would secure a division title and a playoff berth for Quaker Valley.

“It kind of makes us less stressed out knowing that we control our own destiny,” Quaker Valley senior goaltender Colin Rice said. “We can really grind down in these last few practices and perfect our systems. We’ve played Mars before, and we know how they play. We’re certainly not underestimating them because they are a great team. We just have to work our butts off and be prepared for that game.”

Meadville (7-8-2), which also has one game left, is right behind with 16 points. Mars is the wild card with 12 points through 14 of its 18 games. Mathematically, the Fightin’ Planets could win the division title with victories in their last four games to reach 20 points. In that case, Quaker Valley could still reach the postseason if Meadville loses its finale. However, if Meadville wins, the Bulldogs snag second from the Quakers, who’d be eliminated.

“Given everything we’ve gone through and how young we are and outmanned we’ve been, to be in a position to win a division title is great,” Quaker Valley coach Kevin Quinn. “We have some time to get healthier and give ourselves an opportunity.”

Quaker Valley had more than a two-week break between its last game and the finale with Mars. The time off is welcome for the Quakers, who were battling through a rough patch. They dropped five of their last six games, including their last four in which they were outscored 34-3.

“I think we had a bit of a reality check,” Quinn said. “We had got by, at times, this year with our young team because excellent goaltending and timely scoring helped us win some games maybe we shouldn’t have. We’ve faced some good competition down the stretch, too. We’ve just been outmanned.

“We have to put it in the past and prepare for one game,” he continued. “Two years ago, we were 9-9 going into the playoffs and made it to the final. So, anything is possible.”

One of the setbacks in that streak came to Baldwin, which leads Class AA in the overall standings. The Quakers trailed 1-0 heading into the third but settled for a 3-0 defeat.

“We know what we can do if we play the right way. When we struggle scoring and we give up too many chances, we’ll be in trouble against good teams,” Quinn said. “I think that game against Baldwin was our best of the year. We have to look at that as the game we need to play if we’re going to beat any of these big schools.”

Quaker Valley has five seniors (Chris Barefoot, Ethan Cadwell, Josh Bemis, Haley Steffey and Rice), which presses its six sophomores and four freshmen into action.

“We played two schools on their senior nights, and Hempfield and Latrobe both had over 10 seniors. We dressed all those sophomores and freshmen. That’s what you get when you’re the smallest school and being forced to play up. We’re doing what we can. I feel pretty good about the fact that, if we can pull it off, we will have qualified for the playoffs all five years we’ve been in Class AA with a .500 or a sub-.500 record.

“We’re really just doing everything we can to compete while being forced to play up. It takes a toll on the younger guys, who have to go against older players. We still keep battling. I have been pretty proud of them.”

The Quakers hope to snap their streak and extend their season against Mars, another former Class A rival and powerhouse.

“We’ve definitely had our fair share of battles with them over the last few years. It’s always a fun game to play. There is so much intensity. I love it,” Rice said. “I’ve never been in this situation where we have to win to make playoffs. I just can’t wait for the game.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.


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