PIHL Notebook – 01/03/2017

Tuesday, January 3, 2017 | 1:42 PM

With the holidays now in the rear-view mirror, PIHL action is back in full force this week. However, because there were no contests last week and just a smattering of action on Monday night, there will be a slight change to the format of the PIHL Notebook this week. Instead of looking at the hottest teams in each classification, we’ll take a glance at the players who are the front runners for the Most Valuable Player in each class thus far.

Melting the Ice (MVPs of each classification this season)

AAA: Dawson Richard (North Allegheny) – The Tigers forward has been well-known around the PIHL for years because of his offensive contributions, but this year he’s taking his game to another level. Richard is tied for the lead in the classification with 23 points, including 10 goals. While those numbers are impressive in just 11 games, it’s even more notable that he’s factored into exactly half of North Allegheny’s goals this season. The Tigers to this juncture sit atop the standings, as well, just ahead of Central Catholic and Peters Township. Simply put, Richard has been the best scorer on the best team in AAA.

AA: Nolan Puhala (Plum) – Puhala unquestionably has shown the ability to finish this campaign, as he leads the class in goals, with 22, despite playing in just nine contests. Although he trails Greater Latrobe’s JT Schimizzi in points, Puhala has posted the best points per game mark in AA, and that’s been instrumental in his team’s success, too. The Mustangs currently sit just one point out of first place in the East Division, with a game in hand over front running Hampton.

A: Daniel Soltesz (Franklin Regional) – Last year, Soltesz guided the Panthers to a title with his spectacular play down the stretch. This season, the netminder has delivered an epic encore. He’s won all 11 games for the undefeated Panthers, allowing a total of just six goals. His sterling .948 save percentage might only be topped by his microscopic goals against average of .58. Franklin Regional has clearly been the best squad in A, and its goaltender has been the biggest reason why.

D2: Nicholas Frantz (Meadville) – The Bulldogs appear to be running away with Class B, and Frantz has been perhaps the most prominent of many key contributors. He’s netted 23 goals and 19 assists in 13 games for Meadville, 13 points more than the team’s second-leading scorer. While Elizabeth Forward’s Wesley Scott has more goals and points, the Warriors have struggled in the standings, while the Bulldogs are undefeated.

Under Review (weekly team spotlight)

Trinity – In 2015-16, the Hillers finished with 13 points and a goal differential of -64. Things have changed drastically this season, though, as Trinity has already accumulated 16 points, and looks to be among the best in Class C of Division 2. The Hillers are +21 in goal differential, and sit just four points behind Burrell for second place, with a game in hand over the Bucs.

While Trinity has five players who have reached double figures in points, its no secret who the go-to option has been. Forward Nathan Hilzendeger has compiled 32 points, including 25 goals, which is second best in the entire classification. Perhaps more significantly, he has the game-winning tally in five of the team’s eight victories. While there’s a significant dropoff in production behind Hilzendeger, forwards Joseph Chopp, Jacob Snyder and A Shon Burgess have all added 10 points, as has blueliner Tyler Piatt.

Between the pipes, John Popielarcheck has been the stalwart, earning seven wins. His statistics are impressive, including a 2.56 GAA, .909 save percentage and three shutouts in nine contests. Jonathan Chopp has also earned a W in net in his limited duty.

While the Hillers have another week until they return to action, the next two games will likely go a long way towards determining their playoff fate. Trinity hosts Kennedy Catholic, the team atop Class C, on Jan. 10, and then travels to face Burrell on Jan. 20. Both of those teams handed the Hillers a loss in their first meetings, so Trinity will be looking for payback. With only two teams qualifying for the playoffs in Class C, the Hillers will have to leapfrog one of those teams.

Quotable (excerpts from a recent Center Stage)

“All of us working (are) hard and moving the puck and playing our game, and we’re just following the basics.”

Mount Lebanon’s Wyatt George, speaking about the keys for his team’s winning streak after the Blue Devils’ win against Penn-Trafford on Dec. 15. The entire interview can be seen here:



Top-Shelf Trivia

Who led the PIHL in scoring in the 2015-16 season? The answer will be revealed in next week’s notebook.

Last week’s trivia answer: 2014

Slapshots on Slate (upcoming MSA Sports broadcasts)

Tuesday, Jan. 3: Seneca Valley at Peters Township at 7, and Erie Cathedral Prep at Canon-McMillan at 9, both at the Ice-O-Plex at Southpointe with Josh Rowntree and Kevin Zielmanski – The Class AAA doubleheader will have major playoff implications, as all four of the squads currently sit in the top eight spots for the postseason. In the first matchup, the Raiders have been reeling recently, losing four of their past five games, so Seneca Valley hopes the new year will bring new results. Meanwhile, Peters Township has a chance to potentially move into first place in Class AAA with a victory, as the Indians’ 16 points currently have them sitting in a tie for second, just one point behind North Allegheny. The first time the teams met, in November, the affair ended in a 1-1 deadlock. In the nightcap, the Ramblers will look to make their long trek worthwhile, as they try to pull ahead of the Big Macs in the standings. Each team has 11 points, and while ECP has gone 3-0-1 in its past four tilts, Canon-McMillan has been even better, posting a 4-0-0 mark. The first matchup in early October turned into a shootout, with Canon-Mac coming out on top, 7-5.

That’s all for this edition of the PIHL Notebook, but check back every Tuesday for the latest installment. Also, the Chatham University PIHL Power Play Show tomorrow will feature interviews with Mount Lebanon coach Gary Klapkowski and Indiana forward Pat O’Neal. Josh Rowntree and Sean Meyers host the show, which airs at 8 p.m. Additionally, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, the Chatham University Power Play Show will exclusively reveal the PIHL All-Star rosters for the game to be played on Jan. 29 at the Alpha Ice Complex in Harmarville.

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