PIHL Notebook – 2011-2012 OPEN CLASS High School Hockey Preview

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011 | 10:15 AM


Welcome to another installment of “PIHL Notebook” as we celebrate the drop of the puck league-wide tonight by wrapping out season preview four-pack with a look inside the Open Class. After a perfect regular season in ’10-’11, you know Wheeling Central Catholic is not happy about failing to even reach the gold medal game. Can the Maroon Knights unseat defending Nailers and Open Cup champion John Marshall? Or will it be Harbor Creek, out to prove their debut season was not just a flash in the pan? It will be difficult for everyone with plenty coming back for the Monarchs.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs Cup bracket is wide open since 2011 champ Kiski Area has moved up. Will it be silver medalist Ford City who claims the title in March? Young upstarts like Hollidaysburg and Greensburg Salem may have something to say about that, as could another semifinalist in Ringgold or a returning Indiana program. So, read on for all you need to know about your favorite Open Class squad.

(Teams listed in order of 2010-11 winning percentage)

SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE

SECTION 1:

Wheeling Central Catholic Maroon Knights

2010-11 record: 20-0-0; 1st Section 1

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Semifinals

Key departures: Paul Ratcliffe (28 G, 34 A); Jacob Fullerton (19-0-0, 1.94 GAA, 0.898 SV %, 2 SO)

Key projected returns: Parker Henry (16 G, 11 A); Gyenhyung Lee (9 G, 16 A)

The skinny: The good – Wheeling Central paced the Nailers Cup field with 131 goals last season while leading the entire class with just 40 allowed. The bad – nine guys from that bunch were seniors, including four who recorded no less than 34 points. The offense should remain exciting with Henry posting impressive stats as a freshman, but Fullerton played nearly every minute between the pipes, so choosing his successor will be the most important preseason decision.

John Marshall Monarchs

2010-11 record: 13-5-2; 2nd Section 1

2010-11 playoffs: Won Nailers Cup & Open Cup

Key departures: Jimmy Henderson (26 G, 20 A); Matt Saseen (10 G, 20 A)

Key projected returns: Isaac Fitzpatrick (23 G, 24 A); Drew Balcar (10-5-2, 3.11 GAA, 0.868 SV %, 1 SO)

The skinny: John Marshall was impressive in reaching the top of the Open Class mountain last March, and the Monarchs look primed to handle the pressure of having targets stitched onto their jerseys starting tonight. Consider they get their leading scorer and starting goaltender back despite losing five seniors from the gold medal group. Still, scoring 125 goals again won’t be easy when four out of six 20-point scorers below Fitzpatrick graduated.

Morgantown Mohigans

2010-11 record: 10-6-4; 3rd Section 1

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in First Round

Key departures: Brandon Richards (19 G, 22 A); Justin Dicks (5-6-3, 3.03 GAA, 0.906 SV %, 1 SO)

Key projected returns: Jacob Powers (16 G, 11 A); (Zach Taylor 8-1-1, 2.14 GAA, 0.922 SV %, 1 SO)

The skinny: Morgantown scored 97 goals and allowed 59 last year – numbers which usually translate into better postseason results. For whatever reason, though, the Mohigans were unable to take the next step, but that should make for a hungry bunch this time around. Richards was the obvious headliner among nine seniors, but Powers should be ready to lead the offense. Meanwhile, backup goalie Taylor posted better numbers while playing half the minutes of Dicks.

Wheeling Park Patriots

2010-11 record: 8-12-0; 4th Section 1

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in First Round

Key departures: None

Key projected returns: Nicco Catalano (35 G, 21 A); Porter Knollinger (14 G, 24 A)

The skinny: While Wheeling Central flourished in returning to Open Class competition, Wheeling Park found itself floundering a bit. Netting 86 goals was a step in the right direction, but allowing 93 obviously hurt. The Patriots still get two more seasons of Catalano, and indeed all key offensive performers are back, so the onus will fall on the defense to improve. Devlin Graves and Zach Kent both posted GAA’s north of 4.00, so that seems a good place to start for this unit.

Trinity Hillers

2010-11 record: 4-16-0; 5th Section 1

2010-11 playoffs: Did not qualify

Key departures: Ryan Shore (26 G, 4 A)

Key projected returns: Brooke Webber (4 G, 13 A); Jacob Ferguson (2 G, 8 A)

The skinny: Trinity was one of three teams in the Nailers Cup field to allow over 100 goals, so reason enough for this team to miss the playoffs. The Hillers were also very young, so one hopes improvement will come with experience. Unfortunately, Shore was one of the three seniors, and he takes eight goals on special teams (5 PP, 3 SH) with him. Webber and Ferguson were the only other 10-point getters, so this program has to think defense first.

 

SECTION 2:

Harbor Creek Huskies

2010-11 record: 17-3-0; 1st Section 2

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Finals

Key departures: Andrew Chase (22 G, 20 A); Zach Cook (7-2-0, 2.48 GAA, 0.863 SV %, 1 SO)

Key projected returns: Josh Green (17 G, 24 A); Zak Tomblin (15 G, 22 A)

The skinny: Harbor Creek burst onto the PIHL scene last year, finishing third in the Nailers Cup field with 123 goals while finishing second in the class with 46 allowed. The Huskies carried it all the way to the Nailers Cup Final, too, but lost to John Marshall. Green and Tomblin will be relied upon heavily on offense, though, with nine seniors gone. The big question mark will be at goaltender, though, since all three from last year have graduated.

Quigley Spartans

2010-11 record: 14-5-1; 2nd Section 2

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Semifinals

Key departures: William Martin (30 G, 22 A); Matt Vicinie (11-4-1, 4.37 GAA, 0.855 SV %, 1 SO)

Key projected returns: Doug Simon (22 G, 24 A); Nicholas Santiago (20 G, 16 A)

The skinny: Quigley boasted plenty of firepower in ’10-’11 with 111 goals, and letting in 74 was respectable given the competition, but not enough to get the Spartans into the finals. Martin’s offense will be missed, including his six power play goals, but Simon will gladly counter that with seven special teams markers himself (2 PP, 5 SH). Vicinie has likewise been a fixture in net, but backup Preston Charlton was not bad with a 3-1-0 record, 3.56 GAA and one shutout.

Blackhawk Cougars

2010-11 record: 13-5-2; 3rd Section 2

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Quarterfinals

Key departures: Chris Levato (37 G, 30 A); Manny Davison (28 G, 20 A)

Key projected returns: Josh McCuean (5 G, 25 A); Kyle Schaefer (6 G, 11 A)

The skinny: Blackhawk was the fifth and final Southwest Conference team over 100 goals while allowing just 58, but the Cougars fell short in the postseason. Guys like McCuean will need to step up their production with seven seniors gone, including a staggering 18 power play goals and five shorthanded from Levato and Davison. Ross Phipps also leaves after playing almost every minute between the pipes with a 3.07 GAA, 0.899 save percentage and two shutouts.

Beaver Bobcats

2010-11 record: 0-21-0; 4th Section 2-A

2010-11 playoffs: Did not qualify

Key departures: Max Bodrie (2 G, 5 A)

Key projected returns: James Jenkins (7 G, 2 A); Ben Zorich (4 G, 3 A)

The skinny: You have to give Beaver this much – they are coming back after finishing at the bottom of the league in goals for and against. Jenkins and Zorich combined for six power play tallies on the blue line, a definite positive to carry over as the Bobcats move down from Class A. This is also still a young team with just three seniors gone, but the forwards need to produce while Luke Palguta needs to shrink the GAA significantly in taking the reigns from Zach Richards.

Central Valley Warriors

2010-11 record: 7-13-1; 3rd Section 2-A

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Quarterfinals

Key departures: Tyler Kocis (42 G, 10 A); Ryland Hughes (10 G, 12 A)

Key projected returns: Craig Fairley (6 G, 5 A); Kevin Guzak (2 G, 7 A)

The skinny: Central Valley was an enigma last season. The program was new, but the players came mostly from Center, so it wasn’t exactly new territory for the players. Kocis led the class with 42 goals, including 11 on special teams (6 PP, 5 SH). Goalie Nate Wormald posted a solid 3.08 GAA, 0.900 save percentage and two shutouts, but only went 3-9-0. The Warriors graduated 10 players, including those two, so guys like backup goalie Jacob Cowie (4-4-1) need to step up.

 

NORTHEAST CONFERENCE

SECTION 3:

Ford City Sabers

2010-11 record: 17-1-2; 1st Section 3

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Finals

Key departures: David Lowry (26 G, 33 A); Tyler Skerkavich (9-0-0, 2.08 GAA, 0.907 SV %, 2 SO)

Key projected returns: Kevin Valasek (40 G, 30 A); Jesse Valasek (17 G, 26 A)

The skinny: Ford City led the class with 146 goals while tying Ligonier Valley as the top defense in the Chiefs Cup bracket. Many thought the Sabers had the inside track to a gold medal, but Kiski Area derailed them. You have to like their chances of making another run, though, with the Valasek brothers leading the charge despite losing six seniors. New starting goalie Adam Cogley should be just fine, too, after going 8-1-2 with a 2.89 GAA.

Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers

2010-11 record: 14-6-0; 2nd Section 3

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Quarterfinals

Key departures: Josh Stell (5 G, 10 A); Derek Baser (2 G, 9 A)

Key projected returns: Macky Power (43 G, 29 A); Sam Lafferty (34 G, 36 A)

The skinny: Hollidaysburg got 77 of its 120 goals from two guys last year, and both return looking for more of the same. The Golden Tigers only lost three seniors, too, so the fans are surely hoping the continuity means a deeper postseason run. The defense was solid if not dominant in allowing 68 goals, and you can bet junior Matt Gregory (12-5-0, 3.51 GAA, 0.871 SV %, 1 SO) would like to shrink that number a bit.

Ligonier Valley Rams

2010-11 record: 11-8-1; 3rd Section 4

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Quarterfinals

Key departures: Dace Ludwig (38 G, 11 A); Matt Erlichman (11-8-1, 2.51 GAA, 0.905 SV %, 2 SO)

Key projected returns: Stephen Paouncic (15 G, 16 A); John Demarchi (2 G, 21 A)

The skinny: Ligonier Valley tied as the best defense in the Northeast Conference, allowing just 51 goals. Repeating that performance will be difficult without Erlichman between the pipes, but with only four other seniors, at least the Rams have some stability in the lineup. Of course, one of those graduates also happens to be last year’s offensive leader, so guys like Paouncic and Demarchi will look to find another gear.

Connellsville Falcons

2010-11 record: 4-15-1; 3rd Section 3

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Quarterfinals

Key departures: Brad Halfin (9 G, 5 A); Nicholas Burkholder (6 G, 7 A)

Key projected returns: Tim Brown (18 G, 10 A); Robert Coffman (5 G, 10 A)

The skinny: In one of the pure classifications, Connellsville surely would have missed the playoffs after allowing 120 goals while scoring only 50. The Falcons do return their top two scorers, though, so the offense has something to build on. Losing 13 seniors might wind up a good thing as the defense goes back to the drawing board while Devin Kalp’s 5.84 GAA and 0.833 save percentage could have been worse.

Indiana Little Indians

2010-11 record: Did not play

The skinny: Indiana has not competed at the varsity level after finishing 9-13-0 in 2007-08, a season which included a playoff victory over Kittanning before falling to eventual champion Latrobe. The junior varsity even took a year off after posting a 10-6-2 mark in ’08-’09. The Little Indians came back strong at 13-2-2 last winter, though, tying for first place in Section 3. Time will tell how that translates back to the big stage.

 

SECTION 4:

Greensburg Salem Golden Lions

2010-11 record: 11-7-2; 2nd Section 4

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Semifinals

Key departures: None

Key projected returns: Sean Beichner (51 G, 17 A); Andrew Boschert (11-7-2, 3.20 GAA, 0.882 SV %, 1 SO)

The skinny: Greensburg Salem put together one heck of a run for a team with just one senior on the roster, scoring 104 goals and allowing 65. Beichner led the league with 51 goals, including an unreal 20 on special teams (11 PP, 9 SH). The Golden Lions return seven other double-digit scorers, including three well over 20. If experience is all that kept this bunch from a gold medal, look out this season.

Baldwin Highlanders

2010-11 record: 1-19-0; 5th Section 1-AAA

2010-11 playoffs: Did not qualify

Key departures: Neil Isler (11 G, 2 A); Ryan Abbott (7 G, 3 A)

Key projected returns: Jesse Powell (10 G, 3 A)

The skinny: It was a rough season to say the least for Baldwin in allowing 161 goals while scoring just 35. Enter a change of scenery the Highlanders desperately needed. Unfortunately, Powell is the only scorer of consequence returning to the lineup, but the Highlanders only lost six seniors. On another positive note, Zach Christman posted slightly better numbers (7.43 GAA, 0.826 SV %) in splitting time with Mike Cundra, and Christman is the one coming back.

Carrick Cougars

2010-11 record: 6-12-2; 4th Section 2

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Quarterfinals

Key departures: Josh Kowalecki (4 G, 9 A)

Key projected returns: Chris Schmitt (11 G, 8 A); Ryan Maurice (11 G, 7 A)

The skinny: Carrick was in rebuilding mode last season after years of serious contention which included two Nailers Cups in ’06 and ’08. With all but one player back, though, the Raiders need to check the excuses at the door. Improving the minus-eight goal differential should be manageable considering Josh Brown did his part with a 2.61 GAA, 0.896 save percentage and four shutouts. Offensively, Schmitt and Maurice combined for seven power play goals.

Ringgold Rams

2010-11 record: 6-13-1; 5th Section 4

2010-11 playoffs: Lost in Semifinals

Key departures: Kevin Claybaugh (46 G, 28 A); Nicholas Scabilloni (20 G, 10 A)

Key projected returns: William Sutyak (9 G, 31 A); Evan Yanketis (11 G, 14 A)

The skinny: Scoring 100 goals was exactly what Ringgold needed to defend its Open Cup title. Allowing 131, however, was not. The scoring may get a bit trickier with class champion Claybaugh and his 10 power play goals leaving, not to mention former scoring champ Bobby Sokol. With goals likely coming at a premium, it becomes all the more important for Cody Kuhel to improve his 5.81 GAA and 0.791 save percentage.

 

Keystone Oaks Golden Eagles

2010-11 record: 6-13-1; 5th Section 2

2010-11 playoffs: Did not qualify

Key departures: Patrick Donovan (4 G, 8 A); Brandon Bates (1-0-0, 1.17 GAA, 0.961 SV %)

Key projected returns: Ryan Rosato (17 G, 20 A); Ryan Ribeau (20 G, 15 A)

The skinny: Quite a drop-off for Keystone Oaks from two-time Nailers Cup finalist to missing the playoffs altogether. Perhaps moving into the Chiefs Cup bracket will help. The Golden Eagles do get four out of five 10-point scorers back despite losing five seniors. Meanwhile, new senior Dan Smee will look to improve his 4.24 GAA and 0.872 save percentage.

 

This concludes our annual PIHL season preview, but we will begin our regular weekly installments of “PIHL Notebook” on Monday, December 5. Then tune in at 8:00 PM on Wednesday, December 7 for the seventh season premiere of “The PIHL Power Play,” airing weekly through March. The exclusive home for the 2012 Penguins Cup Playoffs is the MSA Sports Network!

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