‘Hockey is awesome:’ Inaugural PIHL girls season gets rave reviews

Sunday, June 19, 2022 | 11:01 AM

After the inaugural PIHL girls hockey championship concluded, a young girl with a homemade sign and a pen waited patiently just down the hall from the locker rooms.

As the players started to file out, she asked for their autographs. One by one, each player, whether they won or lost, took the time to put their signature on the sign and chat with her.

The players enjoyed plenty of good moments on the ice this year, and the ones off of it hit home as well, as they understood the importance of playing in the first season of the PIHL all-girls league.

“It’s awesome,” said Armstrong sophomore Emmery Taylor, who played for Team East. “It feels good to be an inspiration for them and to get them into hockey. Hockey is awesome. The friends and bonds you make playing are amazing.”

The season concluded with Team East defeating Team Central, 2-1, in the championship game on an overtime goal by Kylie McKenzie (Penn-Trafford) on June 11 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township.

It was the third consecutive overtime playoff game. In the semifinals, East won 5-4 in three overtimes over West and Central topped Southeast 2-1 three days before the championship.

McKenzie was proud to have the distinction of being the first game-winning goal scorer in the PIHL girls championship game.

“It’s amazing that we made history,” McKenzie said. “We had a good crowd here supporting us and cheering us on. It was great to finally have a league to play in and represent my school.”

The league had six teams, broken up geographically, with at least a half-dozen schools represented on each team.

The two teams in the championship game provided a good example of the range of schools

East had girls from Armstrong, Burrell, Elizabeth Forward, Hempfield, Latrobe, Norwin, Penn-Trafford, Windber, Westmont Hilltop and West Shamokin.

Central was represented by Avonworth, Baldwin, Bentworth, Hampton, North Hills, Pine-Richland and Thomas Jefferson.

Central coach Joe Cummings said it was a great honor to be one of the first six head coaches in the league, and he believes that they are just scratching the surface of what the league can become.

“I knew a lot of these girls from coaching (Pittsburgh) Arctic Foxes girls youth hockey,” Cummings said. “Some of these girls, even on other teams, I had coached since they were mites. It’s great to see them be able to take it to the next level and play in a high school league.

“I think in the next couple of years, the number of schools represented on each team will shrink because more girls will be playing from each school. There’s talk that they’ll add two more teams next year, so that’s good. There were some younger girls here today, and they see these girls playing and it gives them some motivation to stick with it and keep going.”

Southwest’s Cameran Evans (Bethel Park) won the league’s first regular season scoring title with 19 points in 10 games. She also led the league in goals with 13. Central’s Delaney Howard (Thomas Jefferson) finished one point behind with 18.

West’s Jenna Collins (Moon) led all goalies with a .941 save percentage and recorded two shutouts. Corrine Brunetto (Latrobe) was second with a .928 save percentage and had an incredible run in the playoffs for East.

She had a 76-save performance in the triple overtime win and made 23 stops in the championship game, finishing with a .955 save percentage.

Brunetto will be a junior in the fall and is looking forward to two more years of playing in the PIHL girls league.

“I’m glad we can pave a path for the girls in the future,” Brunetto said. “I want to do this until I graduate and help continue to get women’s hockey around here going.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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