PIHL Notebook – 01/17/2017

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 | 2:53 PM

With just about one month remaining in the PIHL regular season, the action on the ice is really heating up. MSA Sports’ comprehensive coverage has been in full force this month, with a bevy of audio and video broadcasts, as well as the weekly Chatham University PIHL Power Play Show, and of course, the PIHL Notebook. Here’s a quick look at the latest happenings around the league.

Melting the Ice (the longest unbeaten streak in each classification)

AAA: Central Catholic (6-0-0) – Although Erie Cathedral Prep has also been unbeaten in its past six games, the Ramblers had a tie preceding their victories, while the Vikings have notched six straight W’s. Central Catholic’s surge including victories against Butler, Armstrong, North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, Bethel Park and Seneca Valley, and has propelled the Vikings to the top spot in the class, three points ahead of North Allegheny.

AA: Moon (8-0-1) – The Tigers have surpassed Mount Lebanon and Quaker Valley, both of which also had lengthy winning streaks of their own this season. Moon’s 23 points are the most in the classification, just ahead of Plum. So far in January, the Tigers have knocked off Hempfield, Quaker Valley and Bishop Canevin, all in tightly-contested affairs, and matchups with North Hills and Mount Lebanon loom later this month.

A: Franklin Regional (14-0-0) – The Panthers again hold the top spot, as they’ve been unblemished all season. The squad played once since last installment, a 9-0 win against Gateway last night. The victory marked the fourth straight tilt in which the Panthers did not allow a goal, and Franklin Regional has surrendered just six goals all season. Franklin Regional has 28 points, eight points better than Kiski Area, Indiana and Chartiers Valley.

D2: Meadville (15-0-0) – The Bulldogs have not played in more than a week, but still remain atop the classification. In Class C, Kennedy Catholic has not lost in 14 contests, but has a pair of ties to go with a dozen wins. Meadville, meanwhile, will play Kennedy Catholic in the Bulldog’s next contest, a week from tonight. With a goal differential of +140, Meadville has been the most dominant team in the entire PIHL so far in 2016-17.

Under Review (weekly team spotlight)

Plum – Mustangs’ head coach Vinnie Somma was confident in his squad entering his second season on the bench, and Plum has proven to be a top contender thus far in Class AA. Plum scored a decisive win against Hampton last night to remain in first place in the East Division, with 22 points. The Mustangs are tied with Moon for the stingiest defense, but Plum has also scored the second most goals in the class, so the team can win in a variety of ways.

The potent offense has been carried by a pair of forwards, Nolan Puhala and Dillon Joyce. Puhala has 29 goals and 42 points, both tops in the class, while Joyce has 24 assists, the top mark in AA, and sits third in scoring with 33 points. The Mustangs have three other players who have reached double figures in scoring, including forwards Anthony Borriello and Anthony Adamski, and blueliner Ryan Loebig.

While the team boasts other impressive defensemen, including Mason Proskin, Connor Cenci and Louis Poprocky, the netminder has been arguably the biggest factor in the team’s success in that end of the ice. Sergio Benitez has played in 10 games, compiling a record of 8-1-0.  More impressively, his goals against average is just 2.00, and his save percentage is a sparking .914, both tops among goalies who play regularly.

Plum will have a two-week layoff until its next tilt, against Shaler on Jan. 30. Following that, the Mustangs will play two of the frontrunners in the West Division, Moon and Mount Lebanon. If the Mustangs have success in those games, they will likely be considered the favorite in Class AA heading into the postseason.

Quotable (excerpt from a recent Center Stage)

“I think it’s something we embrace. It’s something that we know every team is going to bring their A game every time we step on the ice. We’re ready for them.”

Central Catholic’s Ryan Haag discussing the dynamic of Central Catholic becoming one of the favorites in Class AAA, after the Vikings’ 6-2 win against Bethel Park on Jan. 12. To watch the full interview, see below:

Top-Shelf Trivia

Current Columbus Blue Jackets forward Brandon Saad played in the PIHL for which high school? The answer will be revealed in next week’s notebook.

Last week’s trivia answer: Central Catholic and Bishop Canevin.

Slapshots on Slate (upcoming MSA Sports broadcasts)

Friday, Jan. 20: Trinity vs Burrell at Pittsburgh Ice Arena in New Kensington at 6 with Mike Azadian and Brandon Showers – Burrell has been nothing short of terrific in its return to the PIHL, as the Bucs currently sit in second place in Class C, with 20 points. The Hillers, meanwhile, are four points back of Burrell, and will need to leapfrog the Bucs in order to qualify for the postseason, as only two teams in Class C will advance. The teams met last month, and Burrell scored a 4-2 road triumph. Since then, though, the Bucs have sputtered, tying against Kennedy Catholic, and then losing their last two contests. Trinity, meanwhile, is looking to rebound from a 6-4 setback to Kennedy Catholic last week.

Monday, Jan. 23: Peters Township at North Allegheny at Baierl Ice Complex in Warrendale at 7 with Steve Nagler and Sean Saputo – The Tigers had been atop the Class AAA standings for the majority of the season, but North Allegheny has now dropped to second place behind Central Catholic. Meanwhile, Peters Township had lost three straight tilts, and sits in fourth. The initial matchup between the squads resulted in a 2-2 deadlock in October.

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 exclusively reveal the PIHL All-Star rosters for the game to be played on Jan. 29 at the Alpha Ice Complex in Harmarville. Josh Rowntree and Kevin Zielmanski host the show, which begins at 8 p.m.

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