Five things to watch during the PIHL Penguins Cup finals
By: Don Rebel
Sunday, March 17, 2019 | 11:00 PM
Chalk. It’s a term to describe a tournament that runs as expected, no surprises with the favorites all winning.
Welcome to the 2019 PIHL Penguins Cup playoffs.
The league will crown four champions Monday and Tuesday with the title games set for doubleheaders each night at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.
On Monday, Burrell plays Ringgold in the Division II final, and Pine-Richland takes on Upper St. Clair in Class AA.
On Tuesday, South Fayette plays Montour in Class A, and Peters Township battles North Allegheny in Class AAA.
You can watch all four championship games, at 6 and 8:30 p.m. on the TribLive High School Sports Network.
Three of the four title games will be a No. 1 against a No. 2 seed.
The lone exception is the Division II finals which pit No. 1 Burrell against No. 3 Ringgold. The Rams finished one-half game behind Neshannock in the Division II standings, but blanked the Lancers in the semifinals 5-0.
The PIHL used to format its postseason by re-seeding after each round. That was always an advantage for the higher-seed teams and made it tough for Cinderella teams to make a lengthy run.
A few years ago, the league decided to move away from the re-seeding and go with a bracket format in which the brackets are determined before the playoffs, and everybody knows their path to the finals ahead of time.
This was supposed to open the door for teams in the middle of the pack or near the bottom of the field to have a better chance at a surprise playoff run.
But at least for this season, the elite have prevailed, making for four fabulous championship finals.
New champs to be crowned
All four winners Monday and Tuesday will be new champions.
In fact, only two of the eight teams playing in this year’s PIHL finals played in the title game a year ago.
Peters Township lost in the Class AAA championship game, and Burrell fell in the Division II final.
In fact, half of the four 2018 champions didn’t even qualify for this year’s postseason.
Class AA and A champions last year Armstrong and Bishop McCort were spectators this year, while Class AAA Seneca Valley and Division II Moon qualified but were eliminated early.
Offense vs. defense
Fans will find out in the finals what wins in the PIHL, lethal offenses or suffocating defenses.
In Class AAA, Peters Township was first in team offense while North Allegheny was tops in team defense.
In Class AA, Pine-Richland was first in defense and second in offense while Upper St. Clair was third in offense.
In Class A, Montour was first in offense and South Fayette was tops in defense.
In Division II, Burrell was first in offense and fourth in defense while Ringgold was second in offense and third in defense.
Feast or famine
Half of the eight finalists have won multiple PIHL Penguins Cup championships while the other half … not so much.
Peters Township leads the way with six championships. The Indians won four straight Class AA titles from 2002 through 2005 and won Class AAA gold in 2014 and ‘17.
Upper St. Clair is next with five titles, although only one has come this century as the Panthers won the Class AAA crown in 2011. USC also won four times in an 11-year span with titles in 1980, 1986, 1987 and 1990.
Pine-Richland has three Penguins Cup crowns with back-to-back Class AA titles in 2006 and 2007 and a third straight championship, this coming in Class AAA in 2008.
North Allegheny has won high school hockey gold twice, winning Class AAA championships in 2007 and again in 2013.
The other four finalists have won one title combined.
Ringgold won the Class A championship in 1990.
Burrell, Montour and South Fayette will be playing for their school’s first PIHL hockey championship.
The three winners in the Class AAA, AA and A Penguins Cup finals will advance to the state title game to be played on Saturday at the RMU Island Sports Complex on Neville Island.
The Penguins Cup winners will play the three Flyers Cup championships in the three Pennsylvania Cup high school hockey state title games.
The Montour/South Fayette winner will play in the PA Cup Class A finals against West Chester Bayard Rustin at 11 a.m. The Golden Knights won their sixth straight Flyers Cup crown on Sunday with a win over Hershey.
The Pine-Richland/Upper St. Clair winner will play Downingtown East in the PA Cup Class AA finals at 1:30 p.m. The Cougars won their third straight Flyers Cup crown with a 7-3 win over crosstown rival Downingtown West.
The Peters Township/North Allegheny winner will play LaSalle College in the PA Cup Class AAA title game at 4 p.m. The Explorers knocked off defending champion St. Joe’s Prep, 5-2.
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.