Intrigue surrounds 2021 PIHL Penguins Cup playoffs
Sunday, April 4, 2021 | 11:00 AM
After the 2020 playoffs were suspended and eventually canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the PIHL is ready to crown Penguins Cup champions once again.
The 2021 version of the playoffs are set to get underway with quarterfinal games in each classification scheduled for Monday.
There’s intrigue in each class.
The Class AAA field appears to be wide open with the top five teams in the final regular-season standings separated by four points.
Peters Township finished second in the standings, one point behind Canon-McMillan, but played one less game and was awarded the top seed based on point percentage.
The Indians have been in quarantine and were unable to play their last game against Upper St. Clair, but coach Rick Tingle said they will be ready to go Monday when they face No. 8 Bethel Park.
“It’s a unique situation,” Tingle said. “Usually, we would have had two or three practices last week focusing on how we play, but instead we’ve been sitting at home. This is not an ideal situation at all for us, but that said, this entire season hasn’t been ideal. We’ll prepare the best we can and try to mentally be ready even if some of our skates might be a little dull.”
The other matchups are No. 2 Canon-McMillan vs. No. 7 Mt. Lebanon, No. 3 Pine-Richland vs. No. 6 Upper St. Clair and No. 4 North Allegheny vs. No. 5 Seneca Valley.
Each team has had a moment during the season that shows it’s capable of making a run.
“The hottest team right now in my mind is Seneca Valley,” Tingle said. “In the last two weeks they’ve beaten Canon- McMillan, Pine-Richland, North Allegheny and us. They’ve come on quite a bit. You can’t discount the three bottom teams, either. We split with Bethel Park and Mt. Lebo. It’s usually pretty tight every year, but this season there’s as much parity as ever.”
Baldwin (17-1) and Thomas Jefferson (16-1-0-1) had the best records but played in the same division, so the Highlanders received the top seed and the Jaguars are the No. 5 seed, putting them in the same half of the bracket.
Baldwin plays No. 8 Penn-Trafford, and Thomas Jefferson faces No. 4 Armstrong, the Northeast Division champion.
Penn-Trafford won 6-1 over Shaler on the final night of the regular season to get into the playoffs for the first time in six years, ensuring all four teams from the Southeast Division qualified.
Hempfield, the Southeast Division champion, is the second seed and faces division rival Franklin Regional. No. 3 Montour, the Northwest Division champion and 2019 Class A Penguins Cup champion, plays No. 6 Latrobe.
Indiana is the top seed after a 17-0 regular season when it scored a Class A best 108 goals and tied with Chartiers Valley for fewest goals allowed with 36. The Indians play No. 8 North Catholic.
Freeport and Kiski Area tied for first place in the Northeast Division at 14-3-1 and tied in every tiebreaker, so the higher seed came down to a coin flip, which Kiski Area won.
“To me it really doesn’t matter, because ultimately you’re going to have to go through good teams to get to where you want to go,” Freeport coach Kelly Mason said. “We’re in. We have a good team. It’s time to go win some hockey games.”
The second-seeded Cavaliers play No. 7 Greensburg Salem. Freeport received the fifth seed and faces No. 4 McDowell, the Northwest Division champion.
The top two teams in the Southwest Division, No. 3 Chartiers Valley and No. 6 North Hills, complete the bracket.
“There are a handful of teams that have put up some good numbers,” Mason said. “You look at Kiski, Indiana, Chartiers Valley and us, the goals against are all comparable. We preach that we want to be an aggressive hockey team that plays fast, but at the same time we have to limit mistakes because one mistake can determine who moves on.”
Ringgold, the 2019 Class B champion, is the favorite again after a 16-0-1 season in which it won the South Division and had a plus-104 goal differential. The Rams play No. 8 Avonworth. No. 4 Bishop Canevin faces No. 5 Connellsville, the lone team to beat Ringgold this season. The Falcons defeated the Rams, 3-2, in overtime Jan. 28.
Neshannock, the North Division champ, is the No. 2 seed and plays No. 7 Elizabeth Forward. No. 3 Carrick faces No. 6 Wilmington.
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer
More High School Hockey• Thomas Jefferson hockey standout picked by Johnstown Tomahawks in NAHL draft
• Maple Leafs draft Pine native Ty Voit in 5th round
• Pine-Richland teen Carson Verszyla goes viral with highlight-reel hockey goal
• Seniors took Baldwin hockey program to remarkable heights
• Thomas Jefferson hockey bids farewell to coach Bill Crousey, welcomes former NHL player