PIHL News & Notes: 2010-11 Class A High School Hockey Preview

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Monday, October 18, 2010 | 12:00 AM


The 2010-11 PIHL campaign officially begins tonight, so what better way to celebrate than continuing our annual in-depth preview? This week, we take a look at Class A, where Mars will look to defend its state title and capture a third straight Penguins Cup. There will be plenty of teams out to stop the Planets, though. Can Serra Catholic overcome key graduation losses to remain among the elite teams? Can South Fayette ride the momentum of last year's second half and advance beyond round one of the postseason? Read on for the complete breakdown of all 15 teams fighting to skate on Consol Energy Center ice this March.

(Teams listed in order of 2009-10 winning percentage)

SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE

SECTION 1:

Hampton Talbots (14-7-1; lost in Class A Penguins Cup Quarterfinals):
It will be a hard road for Hampton without last year's class goal-scoring leader in Alex Mueller (43 G, 23 A), not to mention top playmaker Adam Selvaggio (10 G, 26 A) and five other seniors, four of whom recorded at least 10 points for a group which ranked fourth among its peers with 118 goals. Sophomore Ian Wood (15 G, 9 A) was quite impressive as a freshman, though, so look for him to lead a relatively young offense. The good news is the Talbots get both of their goaltenders back, including senior Sam Wilson (12-6-1, 2.72 GAA, 0.877 SV %, 3 SO), who will surely look to improve on his save percentage.

Knoch Knights (14-8-0; lost in Class A Penguins Cup Quarterfinals):
Like the Section 1 champs, Knoch will have to replace its two leading scorers in Neal Donnelly (15 G, 17 A) and Evan Gorse (15 G, 15 A) along with five other seniors Unlike Hampton, though, the Knights return more double-digit scorers, led by seniors Matt Eshelman (12 G, 8 A), Nate Medic (6 G, 10 A) and Shane Hennessy (4 G, 11 A). It will be hard to replace backstop Ryan Napes (13-8-0, 2.02 GAA, 0.916 SV %, 4 SO), but Grant Donnelly (1-0-0, 2.95 GAA, 0.889 SV %), but he certainly has an elite PIHL talent to help him stay prepared in older brother Neal.

Deer Lakes Lancers (4-18-0; did not make playoffs):
One of the more exciting two-way players in recent memory, lack of playoff appearances or not, was undoubtedly defenseman Geoffrey Landry (21 G, 22 A). Unfortunately, Deer Lakes will have to get along without him and seven other seniors, including Sean Bastin (16 G, 15 A). Senior Joe Smith (16 G, 15 A) will be relied on heavily while players like senior Matt Theys (4 G, 4 A) will need to increase their production. The Lancers went with a one-two punch between the pipes last season in Eric Newbrough (3-8-0, 4.97 GAA, 0.843 SV %, 1 SO) and Mike Lockerman (1-10-0, 8.56 GAA, 0.781 SV %), and while both return as seniors, Newbrough definitely had the better stat line despite a lackluster win-loss record, so it would seem to wise to give him more minutes.

SECTION 2:

Mars Planets (20-2-0; Class A Penguins Cup & Pennsylvania Cup Champions):
After three straight trips to the final round of the PIHL season at Mellon Arena, back-to-back Penguins Cup titles and winning the 2010 state championship, can Mars possibly keep it going? With only three seniors on the '09-'10 roster, the answer could easily be yes. Tyler Whiteford (12 G, 27 A) and Mike Mazzotta (15 G, 21 A) will be missed on offense, but scoring leader Elliot Tisdale (23 G, 32 A) is only a junior, as is sniper Nick Blaney (20 G, 16 A). They won't be alone, either, as the Planets have eight other double-digit producers back in the fold. Where this team really kills you defensively, though, evidenced by a league-best 27 goals allowed. Senior Tyler Stepke (16-2-0, 1.27 GAA, 0.924 SV %, 7 SO) was simply dominant, and you can bet he wants to make his final season a memorable one.

Quaker Valley Quakers (12-9-1; lost in Class A Penguins Cup Quarterfinals):
The 2006 and 2008 Penguins Cup champions were just about as "middle of the road" as you can get last season among, ranking eighth in Class A with 85 goals for and sixth with 58 against. Continuing the trend, three out of seven 10-point scorers are gone, including team leader Alex Jackson (13 G, 22 A). Kevin Kenny (17 G, 13 A) is only a junior, though, and should continue his production for what should be another solid lineup. Goaltender Zach Gittins (6-6-1, 3.63 GAA, 0.867 SV %, 2 SO) graduated, so the Quakers finally have a starter not named Zach in Jonathan Pijar (6-2-0, 3.03 GAA, 0.827 SV %, 3 SO), who fittingly won the same number of games as Gittins in '09-'10.

Central Valley Warriors (10-12-0; lost in Class A Penguins Cup First Round):
It remains to be seen what impact any players from the Monaca side of the tracks will have, but the newly formed Central Valley program has plenty of standouts from the '09-'10 Center roster to build on. True, Shane Reger (20 G, 15 A) will be missed, but senior Tyler Kocis (17 G, 14 A) should be primed to take over as the team leader in points. Three other Warriors reached the 10-point plateau last season, including seniors Brendan Garay (10 G, 11 A) and Ryland Hughes (10 G, 3 A). Starting goalie Nate Wormald (10-5-0, 4.23 GAA, 0.853 SV %, 3 SO) will also be a senior, creating plenty of security on the back end as Central begins a new era in the PIHL.

Beaver Bobcats (4-18-0; did not make playoffs):
Beaver has not seen the postseason in two years, and the Bobcats lost seven seniors from last year's squad, including top scorer Anthony Aliberti (15 G, 11 A). It will fall on juniors Ben Zorich (5 G, 7 A) and Kyle Marlin (3 G, 9 A) to lead a very young group back to the Penguins Cup Playoffs. The real issue for Beaver a year ago was defense, though, with a class-worst 173 goals allowed. Still, goaltender Clive Komlenic (4-17-0, 7.67 GAA, 0.770 SV %, 1 SO) was only a sophomore, so hopefully he will pick up his game, and a solid backup this time around wouldn't hurt, either.

NORTHEAST CONFERENCE

SECTION 3:

Serra Catholic Eagles (18-4-0; lost in Class A Penguins Cup Final):
Serra Catholic returned to the Penguins Cup Final for the first time since 2006, but failed to capture its first crown since 2004. The Eagles usually find a way to reload and stay competitive, but even this club will miss a player like Erik Manetta (32 G, 52 A), the co-scoring champion of the league with 84 points. He wasn't alone out there, though, so you can bet Jarrett Ruchka (29 G, 37 A) and Jay Leppo (22 G, 17 A) are determined to soften the blow as seniors. Oh, and did we mention six other players hit double digits in the points column in '09-'10 as Serra was outdone by just two other teams with 149 goals scored? At the other end, senior backstop Garret Hudson (16-3-0, 2.32 GAA, 0.892 SV %, 3 SO) will lead a defense which also ranked third in Class A with 49 goals allowed.

Sewickley Academy Panthers (11-10-1; lost in Class A Penguins Cup First Round):
Sewickley has made the postseason in five of its first eight PIHL seasons, but to make it two in a row will mean moving on without leading scorer Mike Tully (25 G, 19 A). Odds are seniors Daniel Spoonseller (17 G, 23 A) and Ed Lally (21 G, 17 A) should be equal to the task, though, as they lead an offense which returns three other 10-point performers. The Panthers also have to replace their starting goalie with Jimmy Compliment (11-10-1, 4.64 GAA, 0.811 SV %, 2 SO) graduating, and Hayden Moyer played all of eight minutes in '09-'10, so he will have a lot to prove as the season gets under way.

South Fayette Lions (5-16-1; lost in Class A Penguins Cup First Round):
It was a memorable return to the PIHL for South Fayette in '09-'10 after a four-year hiatus. The Lions headed into the holiday break with a 1-11-0 mark, but managed to go 4-5-1 down the stretch and sneak into the playoffs. Most of the key players are back in the fold, so perhaps a victory in March could be in the cards in '10-'11. Leading scorer Shane Coyne (8 G, 12 A) is gone, but his five teammates who broke the 10-point barrier are all back, including senior Brian Bodine (12 G, 6 A). For a team which lost 16 games, 98 goals allowed is really not a bad total, and both goalies are back. Senior Mike Coyne (3-9-1, 4.74 GAA, 0.870 SV %, 1 SO) should remain the starter while junior Ryan Puccetti (1-7-0, 4.53 GAA, 0.859 SV %, 1 SO) provides a decent second option.

South Park Eagles (3-19-0; did not make playoffs):
South Park ranked next-to-last in Class A with just 32 goals scored and 166 allowed last season. The Eagles only had three seniors, but all played vital roles in leading scorer R.J. Brecosky (13 G, 5 A), top defenseman Shane Eggert (3 G, 4 A) and starting net-minder Katie Vaughan (3-18-0, 7.33 GAA, 0.84 SV %, 1 SO). It will fall on junior Josh Minoski (5 G, 4 A) to step up his game and lead a very young group into battle. Between the pipes, senior Ben Gubala did not make an appearance in '09-'10 while Ryan Fuchs (0-1-0, 10.59 GAA, 0.692 SV %) failed to impress in limited action. Both will need to show improvement for the Eagles to do the same.

SECTION 4:

Kittanning Wildcats (20-2-0; lost in Class A Penguins Cup Semifinals):
The top offense in the PIHL with 191 goals, Kittanning turned a lot of heads in its move down from Class AA. The Wildcats saw 13 players record at least 13 points, and will lose six of them, including the top two producers in Troy Schall (26 G, 31 A) and Jurgen Koster (24 G, 29 A). The obvious good news is seven of those offensive studs remain, led by junior Heinz Koster (16 G, 34 A) along with seniors Jordan Ford (19 G, 29 A) and Tyler Crissman (23 G, 18 A). The Kittanning defense wasn't bad, either, ranking fourth in the class with 52 goals allowed. Losing Cory Norton (18-2-0, 2.44 GAA, 0.846 SV %, 4 SO) will sting, but Cameron Langham (2-0-0, 1.69 GAA, 0.840 SV %) was good enough for the Wildcats to feel good about their new starting goalie.

Bishop McCort Crimson Crushers (15-6-1; lost in Class A Penguins Cup Semifinals):
Bishop McCort was fifth in Class A with 101 goals for and 57 against, but meeting or exceeding those performances will mean finding a way to reload after graduating seven key players. In fact, five out of seven players to record double figures in points are gone, including Zach Barto (25 G, 16 A) and Dane Domonkos (25 G, 16 A). On the plus side, though, Kurtis Straw (18 G, 19 A) should be ready to lead the attack as a senior while junior backstop James Stenger (15-6-1, 2.67 GAA, 0.879 SV %, 3 SO) should only get better. Both will be vital components if the Crimson Crushers are to capture their first Penguins Cup since 2005.

Westmont Hilltop Hilltoppers (14-7-1; lost in Class A Penguins cup Quarterfinals):
Westmont had an impressive season considering its opponents scored five more goals on the year (77 GF, 82 GA). Most of their key performers are back, so the Hilltoppers will have an excellent chance to flip that number considerably this year. In fact, all four leading scorers return in juniors Corey Schafer (28 G, 14 A), Noah McQuillan (19 G, 14 A) and Zakery Kindya (9 G, 11 A) along with senior Andrew Herbert (9 G, 21 A). Also returning is junior goaltender Adam Ayre (13-8-1, 3.61 GAA, 0.854 SV %, 1 SO), so King Arthur's team should remain on the short list of teams expected to make the 2011 postseason.

Freeport Yellowjackets (7-13-1; lost in Class A Penguins Cup First Round):
The 2007 Penguins Cup champions will have some reloading to do with leading scorers Shane Gallagher (11 G, 24 A) and Neil Decroo (23 G, 5 A) no longer in the fold. Still, Freeport has plenty of weapons coming back in seniors Dalton Moore (4 G, 10 A), Jonathan Hill (5 G, 8 A) and Travis Hill (5 G, 6 A). If those three can increase their production, the Yellowjackets' offense should retain the ability to sting their opponents. Meanwhile, junior net-minder Cody Lee (7-11-1, 3.08 GAA, 0.914 SV %, 2 SO) should keep Freeport competitive in its own end.

Just because high school hockey season starts Monday night doesn't mean we're done here. Check back next week as we complete our preview four-pack with a look inside the Open Class. The exclusive home for the 2011 Penguins Cup Playoffs is the MSA Sports Network!

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