Montour out of PIHL playoffs after ineligible player controversy
Tuesday, February 28, 2023 | 8:43 PM
It looked like the Montour hockey team was in great position to make the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League Penguins Cup playoffs two weeks ago.
The Spartans were 16-4 and in second place in the Class A Gold Division.
But PIHL officials were alerted via a social media post that the Spartans might have used an ineligible player.
“It was a red flag, and upon further investigation, it was discovered that a player had transferred into the district and was not living with his parents or a legal guardian,” PIHL president Jack Kukan said. “He was declared ineligible. The player participated in 10 games and nine of the games had to be forfeited. This made the Spartans’ record 7-13.”
Montour appealed the league’s decision to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Judge John T. McVay Jr. declined Monday to grant a preliminary injunction that would have allowed Montour to play in the playoffs.
McVay indicated sympathy for Montour’s arguments but ruled that in order to issue an injunction, the decision to keep Montour out of the playoffs would have to cause “irreparable harm.”
“I find degrees of arbitrariness and ambiguity to the rules as argued by Montour, and also I find Montour’s witnesses credible, leading to the reasonable belief on the part of the association as to the players eligibility. I am nonetheless unable to find that irreparable harm exists,” McVay wrote.
This disappointed Montour coach Jason Evans. He announced that he will no longer coach the program and does not want any part of the PIHL.
“If you read the decision, Judge McVay said he found Montour did nothing wrong,” Evans said. “But he said he could not rule on playoff participation.
“If we had more time, I’m sure we would have won and we’d be in the playoffs. But the league broke its own bylaws by starting the playoffs early.”
A season calendar on the PIHL website indicates the regular season ends Feb. 27 and the playoffs begin March 6, but Class A, the classification Montour plays in, has an additional round of playoffs that the other classes do not. It began on Feb. 27.
“We’ve told all our teams that if they have any questions on eligibility, call the league,” Kukan said. “Montour didn’t talk to the right person. Under our bylaws, the only person that rules on eligibility is our league interpreter. She wasn’t contacted.
“We feel horrible. Nobody wins in this case. We don’t want things like this to happen, and we have guidelines for league officials to follow. I don’t know if it was a misunderstanding or what.”
Montour officials contend that former commissioner John Mucha told them the player was eligible. Mucha died in January.
Kukan said there is no record of the agreement between Mucha and Montour.
“We hold meetings all the time and no questions were asked,” Kukan said.
The player in question plays for an amateur hockey team in Pittsburgh. Amateur rules are different from the PIHL rules, and he was eligible to play for the Esmark Stars.
Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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