PIHL Notebook – 02/28/2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 | 3:21 PM

The 2016-17 PIHL regular season has concluded, and now the brackets are nearly set for the playoffs, which begin on March 6. Subsequently, this week’s edition of the PIHL Notebook will take a slightly different format, previewing some of notable contenders and darkhorse teams in each classification.

Melting the Ice (The favorite and a darkhorse from each classification)

AAA: Favorite (Central Catholic) – The top-seeded Vikings have been pretty dominant all season in the highest classification, as they won three more games than second-place North Allegheny, and boasted five more wins than Canon-McMillan. Central Catholic’s explosive offense has been a big reason, as the team as notched a class-leading 98 goals. The Vikings were bounced in the semifinals last year, but they appear poised to take the next step.

Darkhorse (Erie Cathedral Prep) – Canon-McMillan enters the postseason as the hottest team, but just a few weeks ago, it was the Ramblers who were knocking off most of the top squads in Class AAA. ECP had a 10-game unbeaten streak that spanned from November until February, including a win over Central Catholic during that frame. As the No. 4 seed, the Ramblers are a bit under the radar, but they have the postseason pedigree, as the reigning Class AAA champions.

AA: Favorite (Plum) – The Mustangs enter the postseason unbeaten in their past nine contests, which included a victory against West-leading Moon, as well as a pair of victories against Hampton, the second place team in the East. The Plum offense has been prolific, scoring 117 goals, while the defense has been suffocating, surrendering just 35 goals, both marks that led Class AA. Plum also features the top point producer in the classification, in forward Nolan Puhala, and an All-Star netminder in Sergio Benitez. The Mustangs have all the necessary ingredients to take the Penguins Cup.

Darkhorse (Greater Latrobe) – The IceCats 9-9-1 mark will require the team to win a play-in game just to advance to the round of eight. However, if Greater Latrobe can advance, the team certainly has the talent to make some noise. Prolific scorer JT Schmizzi is capable of propelling the IceCats to victory, as the team notched the third most goals in the classification this campaign.

A: Favorite (Franklin Regional) – The Panthers put together a historically great season, simply overmatching most teams throughout the campaign. However, the season finale proved that Franklin Regional is not invincible, as the Panthers suffered their only defeat, to Bishop McCort. Nonetheless, the No. 1 seed only allowed 17 goals in 18 regular-season contests, and the offense is potent, as well, led by Jamie Mauro. The Panthers’ title reign last year came to the surprise of many, but this year, all eyes are on Franklin Regional.

Darkhorse (Bishop McCort) – The Crimson Crushers not only enter the playoffs on a nine-game surge, but they accomplished something no other team in Class A could do this season: a victory against Franklin Regional. Defense typically wins in the playoffs, and Bishop McCort’s 31 goals allowed are second-best in the class.

D2: Favorite (Meadville) – Much like Franklin Regional in Class A, the Bulldogs have been the wire-to-wire frontrunner in Division 2. The Bulldogs were the only PIHL team to not taste defeat in 2016-17, as they won 19 games and tied once. Meadville’s +175 goal differential is almost unfathomable, as the Bulldogs averaged more than 10 goals per game. Head coach Jamie Plunkett also recently secured his 1,000th victory, and his incredible resume can only benefit the Bulldogs entering the playoffs.

Darkhorse (Burrell) – While Carrick rides a 10-game winning streak into the postseason, Burrell could prove to be the biggest threat to Meadville. The Bucs tied the Bulldogs earlier this year, and also boast a five-game unbeaten streak of their own. Although it’s the first year back to the PIHL for Burrell, the team includes several players who had postseason success as members of the Indiana hockey team.

Top-Shelf Trivia

When was the last time Meadville captured a Penguins Cup title?

Last week’s trivia answer: Upper St. Clair

Slapshots on Slate (upcoming MSA Sports broadcasts)

Tuesday, Feb. 28: Elizabeth Forward vs Blackhawk at the Alpha Ice Complex in Harmarville at 9, with Josh Rowntree and Kevin Zielmanski – The Warriors and Cougars tied for the final playoff spot in Class B of Division II, so they will square off to determine which team rounds out the postseason bracket. The squads split the two previous meetings, with EF winning 10-9 in the first matchup, while Blackhawk prevailed 7-4 in the rematch. The victorious team tonight will claim the sixth seed in the D2 playoffs.

That’s all for this installment of the PIHL Notebook, but check back every Tuesday for the latest edition. Also, the Chatham University PIHL Power Play Show airs tomorrow night at 8 p.m., as hosts Josh Rowntree and Sean Meyers welcome Bishop McCort coach John Bradley.

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