Kiski Area, Plum hockey teams surge into playoffs

Sunday, March 1, 2020 | 5:01 PM

A couple of weeks ago, Kiski Area and Plum completed two of the more remarkable rebounds in the PIHL.

The Cavaliers won only one game a season ago, and Plum had only three victories. But in one year, both programs have transformed themselves into division champions.

Now the hope for both teams is their turnarounds can lead to long postseason runs.

Plum (9-8-1) hosts Hempfield in the first round of the Class AA playoffs at 8 p.m. Monday at Pittsburgh Ice Arena in New Kensington.

Kiski Area (12-7-1) plays Norwin at 8:10 pm. Tuesday at Center Ice Arena in Delmont for a first-round Class A playoff game.

Burrell is the third A-K Valley team in the postseason. The Bucs reached the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year and face Carrick in the Class B first round at 8:10 p.m. Monday at Ice Castle Arena in Castle Shannon.

For Kiski Area, it has been a fun ride to go from the cellar to the top.

“It’s been a great season,” Cavaliers goalie Eric Petika said. “It’s great to bounce back after the year we had last year. As a team, we came together this year and were able to make the playoffs.”

Kiski Area fell to Norwin, 4-3, on Nov. 3. Sal Cerilli scored the winning goal with less than three minutes remaining in the third period.

Norwin (15-4-1) is the second-highest scoring team in Class A with 116 goals. The offense is led by a Jacob Dally and Mason Pivarnik, who have 45 points each, and Logan Connelly, who has 42 points.

Kiski Area will counter with one of the best defensive teams in the league. It ranks fourth in Class A with 52 goals allowed.

Petika has a 2.45 goals-against average, .907 save percentage and three shutouts. Michael Rayburg leads the Kiski Area offense with 20 goals.

“We have to keep playing our game,” Petika said. “We can’t underestimate any of these teams we’ll play.”

Plum battled through a rash of injuries during the middle part of the schedule but was able to grind out a division championship.

“It’s a testament to the team, especially these seniors,” Plum coach Phil Mains said. “We have six seniors that have taken control of this team. They didn’t want to go out in a similar fashion to how last season finished. I’m hoping that they continue do that that, and it all ends up where they hope and dream it will.”

Plum played Hempfield during the stretch of injuries and dressed only 12 skaters in a 9-2 loss Dec. 9.

Spartans forward Matt Traczynski leads Class AA with 31 goals. He tied Montour’s Michael Felsing for the Class AA scoring title with 50 points.

When completely healthy, Plum has a 7-3 record, including wins in its final three games. Logan Schlegel has 23 goals, which ranks fourth in Class AA despite playing only 12 games.

“We’re not the deepest team by any means, but when we’re healthy, I feel our forwards are as skilled as anybody else, and our defense has come a long way,” Mains said. “They should be feeling healthy now, so it’s up to those guys to keep the puck out of the net. And if they do get through them, Sam (Pine) has started in goal the last eight or nine games in a row, so he’s settled in. He’s taken a big leap the last month, especially, and we’re confident in what he can provide us in goal.”

Burrell got a boost from the return of standout forward Tyler Stewart, who scored 30 goals in seven games. The Bucs won their final four games, but Stewart won’t be eligible for the playoffs due to not having enough games played.

The Bucs (8-9) made the championship the last two years but graduated most of their key players.

They will rely on Gio Palombo, who has 40 points in nine games, Logan Schoepf and Jonas Sopko in a tough matchup with Carrick.

“Everyone is ready to go, and we’re going to need everybody,” Burrell coach Fred Neal said. “They are a very good team, and they have more depth than us. Some of our guys are not as experienced at this level, but they’ve been committed to the gameplan, getting better and doing what they can.”

Carrick beat Burrell, 10-8, on Jan. 6 behind six goals by Stewart.

That type of score isn’t typical for the Raiders, who allowed three or fewer goals in 14 of their 18 games with three shutouts.

Carrick has eight or more goals in seven games.

“The key for us is to not to get into a scoring race with them, because they can be tough to keep up with,” Neal said. “We know they typically score that many goals, so without Tyler we have to be focused on defense first and take the opportunities on offense when we get them and hope some bounces go our way.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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