PIHL High School Hockey News and Notes – 03/22/2011

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | 12:00 AM


Welcome to another edition of “PIHL News and Notes,” your continuing source for all the scholastic hockey happenings you may not hear about on “The PIHL Power Play.” The 2011 Penguins Cup champions have been crowned, and we congratulate three-time winner Mars along with Bishop Canevin and Upper St. Clair. To help cap off our coverage, we do so with education in mind, presenting “What I learned about each playoff team.” This is high school sports, after all. So join us once again for a look at what else is happening in each classification.

PIHL CLASS AAA:

#1 Fox Chapel Foxes
You have to walk before you can run. After skyrocketing to a 16-0-0 start, the Foxes cooled off considerably down the stretch and struggled to beat a #10 seed in the quarterfinals. While still the feel-good story of the year, perhaps the semifinals exit to a program more used to playing deep into March was inevitable.

#2 Canon-McMillan Big Macs
This team is just flat-out exciting to watch. The building is electric (and loud) wherever they play, from the smallest rink in the league to Consol Energy Center. Despite the heartbreaking end to their title defense, expect the Big Macs to be in the hunt again next season.

#3 Bethel Park Black Hawks
This team was red-hot in the second half, winning 12 of its last 13, and should not be ashamed of a playoff showing which ended in the semifinals. The big key here is the Black Hawks are very young, and it all starts with promising young goalie Austin McGinty.

#4 Upper St. Clair Panthers
As we saw with other teams, it’s hard to beat a club three times in one season, and the Panthers would not let their division rival complete the hat trick with the trophy on the line. And who knew Michael Ambrose would steal Michael Stein’s thunder between the pipes?

#5 North Allegheny Tigers
Defense and goaltending are vastly important to championship clubs, but you still need guys who can produce points. While Ryan Worsena and Joe Griffin averaged over a point per game, neither exceeded 12 goals.

#6 State College Little Lions
After winning a section title which didn’t come as easily as the records might indicate, State College fell victim to that elusive third victory against the same team. Still, it was another solid season for this club with five kids over 20 points and solid backstopping from Joe Abruzzo.

#7 Pittsburgh Central Catholic Vikings
Sometimes you simply run into a hotter team, and for the Vikings it was Bethel Park. Still, this young group exceeded expectations led by veteran coach Bob Kennedy. If any of their three 20-point scorers and goalie Brandon Savka can up the ante next season, look out.

#8 Erie McDowell Trojans
A 5-3-1 record in games decided by one goal or less. An impressive statistic for any team, and one which tells you McDowell fans were certainly never bored watching this team. The Trojans will graduate a ton of players, but leading scorers Ryan Guzek and Alex Margraf will return.

#9 Shaler Titans
Some may have thought Shaler lost too many key players from its 2009 championship team to be competitive, but those people were wrong. A strong mix of seniors and young guns propelled the Titans through the first round and into another OT contest against Canon-McMillan. Although the latter ended badly, this program should remain competitive.

#10 Norwin Knights
This team kept it close all season, going 4-5-1 when the margin was two goals or less, including a pair of one-goal postseason tilts. With a young group coming back, one has to think the Knights will only improve led by top scorer Dan Merz along with goalies Ryan Boccabella and Scott Cromling.

#11 Hempfield Spartans
The third Section 4 team in the tournament matched Norwin’s record, but made it in largely on the strength of an offense led by class scoring champion Kyle Rosendale. Unfortunately for the Spartans, they just didn’t have the defense to match.

#12 Plum Mustangs
This team never said die, overcoming a six-game skid down the stretch to win three straight, including a defeat of Mount Lebanon in a play-in game. Despite an early exit from there, the Mustangs showed a lot of character, and will be fun to watch in 2011-12.

PIHL CLASS AA:

#1 Peters Township Indians
If you live by the sword, sometimes you die by it. Peters built an identity as a physical team during its run of four straight Penguins Cups from 2002 to 2005, and it helped make them the top seed this year, but it left them shorthanded at crucial moments in the championship game.

#2 Bishop Canevin Crusaders
Persistence pays off. Perhaps no team skating inside the Penguins’ new home on Sunday appreciated what it took to get there more than the Crusaders after falling one round short in each of the previous three seasons. They stuck to their relentless fore-checking, and it paid off.

#3 Latrobe Wildcats
Graduation is going to catch up with everybody at some point. The Wildcats still boasted the class scoring champion and top defense, but a 5-4-1 record against teams with winning records showed they were ripe to be picked off. They have a lot coming back, but are no longer a sure thing to don the gold medals in March.

#4 Chartiers Valley Colts
Sometimes you get caught looking at the spotlight instead of playing in it. How else do you explain a seven-goal loss in the semifinals despite riding a huge overtime victory into Consol, not to mention having Justin Sabilla up front and Noah Stevenson between the pipes?

#5 Montour Spartans
Unfortunately for the Spartans, somebody has to lose every playoff game, and a double-overtime thriller in the quarterfinals went the wrong way, ending a dominant six-game winning punctuated by brilliant goaltending from Matt Penz.

#6 West Allegheny Indians
Like North Allegheny, this team featured stellar defense and a stud goaltender in Jason Kumpfmiller, but simply did not have the firepower to compete with the higher seeds in the tournament. Only Jonathan Levitt averaged over a point per game.

#7 Elizabeth Forward Warriors
EF seemed to turn a corner this season, showing an ability to compete with the upper echelon teams, and there is no shame in losing to the eventual champion. Problem is, only one of six double-digit scorers return next year, though top goalie Anthony Schepis will remain.

#8 Pine-Richland Rams
The Rams remain competitive while trying to rebuild what was once a dominant program. Despite two sub-500 seasons and losing several key scorers to graduation, PR will return both goaltenders and some promising young talent up front next year.

#9 Erie Cathedral Prep Ramblers
This program might not be far away from serious contention. The Ramblers kept a lot of games close, with nine decided by two goals or less, including one postseason contest. Despite boasting a modest 1-6-2 mark along the way, much of this team is young.

#10 Moon Tigers
Cooling off late in the season is most definitely not a recipe for success, and the Tigers dropped six in a row before falling in the first round. Real shame, too, because Nigel Crighton was one of the more exciting players in recent memory, ranking third in the class with 58 points as a senior.

PIHL CLASS A:

#1 Kittanning Wildcats
Despite having five players break 40 points, nothing is automatic when gold medals are at stake. After two straight exits in the semifinal round, coming into both with a record equal to Mars, one has to wonder if this is a lesson the Wildcats have now learned.

#2 Mars Fighting Planets
Mars is a hockey machine, period. Four straight appearances in the Penguins Cup Final with three wins in a row, one state title (and counting?) and no end in sight with top scorer Elliot Tisdale returning. Granted they will need a new goaltender, but really, does anyone doubt the Planets have one (or two) at the ready?

#3 Serra Catholic Eagles
Upsets happen, even to the most established programs. After watching 10 kids reach 10 points, including six with at least 20, there is no doubt this one remains among the deepest in the league despite consistently playing with a short bench.

#4 Westmont Hilltop Hilltoppers
Sometimes you flat-out run into a better team. Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, neither the offense of Corey Schafer and Noah McQuillan nor the goaltending of Adam Ayre were enough to combat the Mars machine.

#5 Quaker Valley Quakers
Consistency is a key to finding success in the PIHL when March rolls around. Despite having six players break 30 points and having two goaltenders with a GAA under 3.0, the Quakers went 3-7-0 against teams with winning records, including their lone postseason contest.

#6 Hampton Talbots
You are not going to beat the league’s best defense without attacking the net. Most of Hampton’s offense in the final round involved Luke Leya gaining the high slot and trying to pick the corner with no success. Still, this is a young team except for goaltender Sam Wilson.

#7 South Fayette Lions
This program continues to build success. After sneaking into the playoffs but making an early exit in 2010, the Lions won a round this year. Taking the next step in 2012 will be challenging, though, without the brilliant goaltending of Michael Coyne.

#8 Central Valley Warriors
The general success of athletics for the newly formed school continued with a postseason appearance for the hockey team and a first-round victory. Unfortunately, superstar Tyler Kocis and his 40-plus goals were not enough to carry the Warriors any further.

#9 Freeport Yellowjackets
Head coach Dave Hepler continues to prove hard work and commitment to a system can carry a hockey team far. Despite not having any player score more than 13 goals during the regular campaign, the Yellowjackets allowed just 66 to earn a playoff berth.

#10 Sewickley Academy Panthers
Having dynamic offensive talent like Ed Lally and Dan Sponseller is great, but you need the defense and goaltending to back it up. As it was, the Panthers were the only playoff team to allow 100-plus goals, hence their cameo appearance in the tournament.

Don’t miss the next episode of “The PIHL Power Play” with Adam Hoerner and Josh Rowntree coming up Wednesday on the MSA Sports Network. The sixth season finale is upon us, and we have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2011 Penguins Cup championship games with radio replays and interviews with the winning coaches. It’s all happening on Wednesday night from 8:00 to 9:00 on your exclusive home for the 2011 Penguins Cup Playoffs, the MSA Sports Network!

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