PIHL High School Hockey Notebook – 03/18/2013

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Monday, March 18, 2013 | 1:09 PM


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Welcome to another edition of “PIHL Notebook,” your weekly companion to “The PIHL Power Play” on the MSA Sports Network. After already having previewed the 2013 Penguins Cup Finals on the show this past Thursday, what else can there possibly be to say? To answer that question, we go to a format used once before in the history of this column. Adam Hoerner and special guest contributor Josh Rowntree will “choose sides” in the three contests, telling you why each of the six teams skating at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night have a chance to win. So, let’s light the lamp on this special postseason edition of “PIHL Notebook.”

CLASS A PENGUINS CUP FINAL:

#1 Quaker Valley Quakers (24-0-0) vs. #2 Mars Fighting Planets (19-3-1) AT CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, March 20th at 5:00pm on MSAsports.net

Why Josh thinks Quaker Valley will win – The Quakers have won 32-straight games and have won or tied 45-straight. Only one team has come within 3 goals of Quaker Valley this season and that was in an outdoor game, which they won over Kittanning 3-2. Quaker Valley is paced by five dynamic players who finished in the top ten of the scoring race in Class A this season. Jimmy Perkins (59), Adam Pilewicz (59), Connor Quinn (57), Clayton Bouchard (57) and Ryan Dickson (51) have established the Quakers as the most dynamic offense this year. They lead the three "pure" classifications with 178 goals, 34 better than 2nd-place Thomas Jefferson in Class A. They also sport the best defense in the PIHL, which has allowed just 22 goals in 24 games. Defensively, they have two of the PIHL's best defensemen in Ryan Lottes and Steven Wei. In net, the Quakers have been led by Parker Sherry, who has stopped 47 of 48 shots this postseason. Sherry's goals against average is under 1.00 on the season and he has 6 shutouts. Does Mars have a chance? Sure. Anything can happen. But the Quakers have won four-straight over the Planets, who are the last team to beat Quaker Valley, a 4-3 win back in November 2011. During those four games, QV has outscored Mars 20-4, including a 4-2 win in last year's Class A Championship game. The player to watch for is Ryan Dickson, who leads Class A with 5 playoff goals and wants to go out a back-to-back Champion in his senior season. Mars will have to be absolutely perfect to win. They'll play well, but QV will hoist their 4th Penguins Cup.

Why Adam thinks Mars will win – It is very difficult to beat a team three times in one season. Cliché, but remember such things become clichés because they are true. Besides which, despite their recent struggles versus Quaker Valley, the Planets are no strangers to the big stage, so the intimidation factor should be relatively low, especially with Steve Meyers at the helm. Mars has also steamrolled through the postseason at a pace equal to the defending state champions, blowing out Serra Catholic 8-2 in the quarterfinals before defeating Westmont Hilltop 4-1, the same margin of victory for QV in the semifinals against Kittanning. Mars may fallen more than 40 goals short of the Quakers’ regulars season total, but 129 is still plenty, and 43 allowed trailed only guess who in the class. The Planets boasted 10 double-digit point getters, including four over 20, led by Craig Mazzotta’s 22 goals and 19 assists. Christian Knapp was the team’s top goaltender with a 12-1-1 mark, 1.56 GAA, 0.932 save percentage and three shutouts. As for the postseason, Nicholas Berteotti has paced the offense with three goals and two assists while Knapp has posted a 1.50 GAA and 0.932 save percentage thus far. As for trends across the two losses suffered at QV’s hands this year, 5-2 on November 15 and 4-0 on February 12, the most obvious is the shot margins, 27-14 and 55-22 respectively. Mars also took twice as many penalties as its opponent in the latter contest, and it helped translate into two power play goals. So, evening out the shots and showing discipline will be key factors, but that goes hand in hand with studying the mistakes made in general, something you can rest assured this team has done. And things like that are why the above mentioned cliché continues to prove true.

CLASS AA PENGUINS CUP FINAL:

#2 Latrobe Wildcats (18-3-0) vs. #4 Pine-Richland Rams (16-4-1) AT CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, March 20th at 7:00pm on MSAsports.net

Why Adam thinks Latrobe will win – Both of these teams are looking to recapture past championship glory, and there is no doubt Pine-Richland has gotten hot at the right time. However, leading scorer Josh Singley and top goaltender Shane Brudnok have more recently tasted gold medal victory AND defeat, an edge the Wildcats should be able to exploit. Latrobe has been solid in the playoffs, shutting out Hampton 2-0 in the quarterfinals and holding off Chartiers Valley by a 3-2 count in the semifinals, the same margin of victory for the Rams against Bishop Canevin. The Wildcats tied for the class lead with 123 goals while leading the pack with 31 allowed. Singley’s 21 goals and 30 assists led the attack while Brudnok’s 15-3-0 record, 1.73 GAA, 0.919 save percentage and three shutouts set the tone defensively. Ten other players reached the 10-point plateau, four of them above 20, a group led by Adam Ferguson with 19 goals and 24 helpers. Singley has continued to do his part in the playoffs, setting up four goals, while Chris Johnson has scored twice and set up a pair himself. As for Brudnok, he has found another gear with a 1.00 GAA and 0.956 save percentage. Latrobe split the season series with the Rams, winning 4-1 on December 10 and losing 3-2 on February 13. The former saw the Wildcats score three in the third while the latter found them down 3-0 through two periods, and the rally got started too late in the third. If Latrobe can get the first goal, something it has failed to do against Pine-Richland so far, the top defense in the class should be able to clamp down. One of these programs will win its fourth Penguins Cup championship on Wednesday night. It could go either way, but the championship experience in this lineup could be the determining factor.

Why Josh thinks Pine-Richland will win – The Rams are back in the PIHL Finals for the first time in a long time and they are going to capitalize. While Latrobe presents their toughest challenge yet, Pine-Richland is on a roll and has had the more impressive postseason. Latrobe beat a struggling Hampton squad 2-0 and nearly blew a 3-goal lead against Chartiers Valley. Pine-Richland, on the other hand, destroyed a true Championship contender, Erie Cathedral Prep, 6-2, in the quarterfinals. They then followed it up with a dramatic 3-2 overtime win against AA's top team, Bishop Canevin, in the semifinals. The Rams might have the best top line in AA with Dillon Kessy (57 points), Zach Richey (52 points) and Ryan Cole (34 points). Kessy and Richey were 3rd and 4th in the AA scoring race this season. Richey is dynamite on the power play, netting a league-high 12 goals with the man advantage this season. Pine-Richland has also been helped by secondary scorers, as Tyler Mikita, Matt Cole, Drew Berkholdt and Andrew Vislosky have multiple points during the postseason. But the true facilitator of this team's surge has been goalie Brendan Bagnato. Bagnato has allowed just 4 goals in the playoffs and had a 1.89 goals against average during the regular season. Even though the Rams lost to Latrobe early in the season, they improved and won a tight one, 3-2, in the rematch on February 13. This has the making of a CONSOL classic, but the Rams have had a flair for the dramatic of late and will do it again en route to hoisting their 4th Penguins Cup in school history.

CLASS AAA PENGUINS CUP FINAL:

#1 Peters Township Indians (19-4-0) vs. #3 North Allegheny Tigers (17-4-2) AT CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, March 20th at 9:00pm on MSAsports.net

Why Josh thinks Peters Township will win – The Indians are winners of 15-straight and just try to take a guess at who their last loss was to? That's right, North Allegheny. While the Tigers got the win that day, it has now been 97 days since Peters Township lost. That's 2328 hours. Despite the long streak, that loss has to be in the back of the mind of AAA's second-leading scorer Trevor Recktenwald, who plays on the best line in the PIHL. Recktenwald is paired with Adam Alavi and Alex Debolt, who all combined for 168 points in the regular season. Reckentwald had 67 points and leads all three PIHL Classifications in scoring with 6 points in the postseason. Most impressively is Peters Township's aggressive fore-check, which controls the puck for minutes at a time. In their semifinal win over State College, the Indians controlled the puck in State College's zone for nearly four consecutive minutes. They also shut down Class AAA's leading scorer, Stefan Horgas. Peters Township has the top offense in AAA with 133 goals scored, including 10 in their two playoff games. They were also 3rd in AAA in scoring defense. A big part of that is goaltender Brian Baker, who made all 28 saves against State College and has a goals against average of just over 2.00. Peters Township has beaten North Allegheny this season, a 6-4 win on December 11, just two days before their last loss of the season. Despite the Indians great defense, their strength is in their forwards and if the game sees more than 5 goals, it will be Peters Township that hoists the AAA Penguins Cup.

Why Adam thinks North Allegheny will win – Peters Township has the edge in offensive firepower and depth. No doubt about that. However, Jim Black’s defensive system proved enough to derail the defending Penguins Cup champions 4-3 in the semifinals, not to mention edging Canon-McMillan 2-1 in overtime in the quarterfinals. Yes, the Indians’ fore-check is scary good. But is it unreasonable to assume the Tigers’ stifling brand of defense, which led the class with 37 goals allowed, can turn that against their opponent? That they could frustrate Peters into taking some bad penalties? Despite losing 6-4 in the lone regular season meeting, NA only took four penalties to PT’s six. North Allegheny also outshot Peters 32-21. The big thing is capitalizing on those power play chances, something the Tigers largely succeeded in doing overall, scoring 19 of their 102 goals with the man advantage. It’s almost strange to think this club reached triple digits in goals scored, though. Only nine players hit double digits in points, and three topped 10 goals. Four reached 25 points or more, though, led by Cody Black with 10 goals and 20 assists, and 19 different players turned on the red light. Back to that stellar defense, it always starts between the pipes, and Bradford Thornburgh did his job with an 11-4-1 mark, 1.98 GAA, 0.909 save percentage and three shutouts. The “different hero every night” theme has continued into the playoffs with Connor Cash’s four assists leading the offense, while Joe Griffin and Cody Black have each scored twice. It certainly helps having Thornburgh find another gear with a 1.91 GAA and 0.944 save percentage. Bottom line, this team is riding high after knocking off the incumbent Bethel Park and played well enough to win against the Indians once before. Just capitalize on special teams and North Allegheny can capture its second gold medal.

That wraps up this edition of “PIHL Notebook,” but check back every Monday through March for more news from around the league. In the meantime, Adam Hoerner and Josh Rowntree host the eighth season finale of “The PIHL Power Play” on a special night and time, Thursday at 8:30 PM, to recap the Penguins Cup Finals and preview the state championship games. Your home for the 2013 Penguins Cup Playoffs is the MSA Sports Network!

 

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