Greensburg Salem hockey in hunt for a playoff berth

Sunday, February 9, 2020 | 4:55 PM

Greensburg Salem’s hockey team has four games remaining in the regular season, but the Lions are acting as if they are in the midst of the playoffs already.

Five points behind Southeast Division co-leaders Bishop McCort (13-2-0-1) and Norwin (13-3-1), Greensburg Salem (10-4-2) is in the hunt for one of two PIHL Class A Penguins Cup berths from its division.

“We’ve been on the outside looking in from the onset of the season,” coach Corey Mentch said. “It’s coming down to crunch time. We’re well aware of where we are and what we need to do. We’re treating this last quarter of our schedule as if they are the playoffs. We’re looking at these games as must-win situations.”

The Lions embarked on their playoff push with a 9-2 win over South Park. The result was great, but the team liked the way it achieved it.

“What we did against South Park, if we come with the same effort and intensity these last few games, we’ll roll into playoffs with a full head of steam” captain Brendon Linderman said. “It’s a lot of fun right now.”

That’s because Greensburg Salem has enjoyed a breakthrough season. In the past few winters, the playoffs weren’t a realistic goal for the Lions. The team went 5-13-0 last year.

“That was one of our main goals in the offseason: to turn the program around. I figured it’d be a more gradual process,” Mentch said. “We’re relishing being where we are. At the same time, we’re not trying to hang our hats on that. We’re trying to make the most of this opportunity.”

Greensburg Salem faces a daunting task as its last four opponents — Kiski, Westmont Hilltop, Norwin and Bishop McCort — are a combined 43-19-5. The Lions dropped their first meetings against Westmont Hilltop (5-4), Norwin (7-6) and McCort (4-2) by small margins. Tuesday’s game against Kiski is the teams’ first encounter.

“I know the boys are itching to get their shot at those guys we lost to again. We lost all three games by a combined four goals,” Mentch said. “We know we can play with them, and we know we have to. We can’t afford to give any points away, especially to those guys. I anticipate them showing up. They found another gear against South Park. They entered the game with a playoff mentality. If we play like that, we’ll be a real difficult team to beat.”

The Lions have been able to climb the standings with a young roster. Cole McNair and Linderman are the team’s lone seniors but its top scorers. McNair has 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists), and Linderman has 38 (23, 15).

“Our seniors are steering the ship right now. The South Park game was a great example. They decided to take over (Linderman had seven points and McNair had five),” Mentch said. “These younger kids see the effort they put in every week preparing for these games. I hope it rubs off on this young group, so that, when they come up, they are playing that same way.”

“This year, we had a meeting at the beginning of the year to talk about what we needed to do to change our situation. Cole and I knew we’d be the ones to have to change the culture in the locker room,” Linderman said. “There’s a big change in the culture in the locker room. There’s a lot more team bonding. We’re more like brothers and a family than just being teammates out there.

“It’s super exiting to be part of the team that really turned things around for Greensburg Salem and the organization.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.


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