PIHL Notebook – 02/07/2017

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 | 1:31 PM

The stretch run of the PIHL regular season is in full effect, as a number of marquee matchups highlight the schedule over the next few weeks. For many teams fighting for their playoff hopes, each game has become a must-win scenario. Moreover, for teams already in the postseason, building momentum down the stretch is of the upmost importance.  Here’s a glimpse at the big news around the league this week.

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

AAA: Erie Cathedral Prep (8-0-1) – Courtesy of their latest victory, a 5-2 triumph against Seneca Valley, the Ramblers have moved into sole possession of third place in the classification. ECP has not tasted defeat since the middle of November, and with a clash against lowly Upper St. Clair next on the docket, the Ramblers could possibly extend their streak. However, the final two games of the season loom large for Erie Cathedral Prep, as the team squares off against the two teams ahead of it in the standings, North Allegheny and Central Catholic. The Vikings currently have an impressive streak of their own, as they have won their past eight affairs.

AA: Plum (5-0-1) – In a clash of Class AA heavyweights last Friday, the Mustangs bested Moon 3-2 to put an end to the Tigers’ 11-game unbeaten mark. Following that win, Plum faced another stiff challenge last night against Mount Lebanon, and the contest ended in a 2-2 deadlock. Consequently, the Mustangs have moved into a tie with Moon for the most points in the classification. The Mustangs conclude their slate with games against West Allegheny, Hampton and Bishop Canevin.

A: Franklin Regional (16-0-0) – The Panthers survived one of their biggest tests of the season on Monday, as they edged Kiski Area 6-4. Although Franklin Regional gave up nearly as many goals in the game as it had allowed all season previously, the Panthers are now one step closer to a perfect campaign. The final two tilts will be against talented squads, as well, as Franklin Regional will host Indiana and Bishop McCort. If the Panthers prevail in both, they will become the first PIHL team since 2015 to finish unbeaten in the regular season.

D2: Meadville (16-0-1) – The Bulldogs have not been in PIHL action since last Monday’s tie against Burrell, although Meadville did claim a win against a Canadian team over the weekend to secure win No. 1000 for head coach Jamie Plunkett. Nonetheless, the Bulldogs return to the ice tonight against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, and then wrap up regular-season play against Connellsville and John Marshall. The Bulldogs have already cemented the top spot in Class B for the postseason.

Under Review (weekly team spotlight)

North Allegheny- The Tigers came so close to capturing gold last year, but they were ousted in overtime of the Class AAA Championship by Erie Cathedral Prep. This campaign, North Allegheny is again among the title favorites, as the team is currently in second place, behind only Central Catholic. NA is 11-4-2, and has outscored its opposition 66-40, which represents the fewest goals allowed in the classification.

Ryan Heil has been a major factor in that success, as the Tigers’ netminder has been among the best in the PIHL. In 13 contests, his goals against average is a sterling 2.02, while his save percentage is .922. While Richard Karapandi and Alex Schuler have both earned wins between the pipes, there’s no doubt Heil will get the nod as the Tigers begin the postseason.

While goaltending and defense has been the calling card for the Tigers, the team also boasts two of the top five scorers in Class AAA. Dawson Richard is tied for third with 29 points, while Erik Chidester is just one point back, tied for fifth. Meanwhile, John Parks has notched 20 points, including 11 goals, for NA. Also, blueliner Justin Kidd has been prolific in limited action, as he’s accumulated 12 points in just 12 contests.

The Tigers have three remaining tilts, a road test against Bethel Park, followed by home games against Erie Cathedral Prep and Pine-Richland. The matchup against the Ramblers could prove particularly significant, as the Tigers are trying to hold off the surging Erie Cathedral Prep squad for the second spot. Regardless of playoff seeding, Mike Bagnato’s squad will look to take the final step, and claim gold for the first time since 2013.

Quotable (excerpt from a recent center stage)

“It was kind of a rough start, but we’re at the point now where we’re kind of understanding what we need to improve, what we need to work on, and better ourselves going into the playoffs. (I’m) really excited to see what this team can do.”

Greater Latrobe goaltender Ryan Pal, after a win against North Hills, talking about the IceCats’ improvement heading into the playoffs. The full interview can be viewed here:

Top-Shelf Trivia

Has a team from outside of Pennsylvania ever won a Penguins Cup or D2 (formerly Open Division) championship?

Last week’s trivia answer: 2011

Slapshots On Slate (upcoming MSA Sports broadcasts)

Tuesday, Feb. 7: Central Catholic vs Peters Township at Ice-O-Plex at Southpointe at 7 with Sean Saputo and Mike Azadian – The first-place Vikings have been riding high lately, and they have a chance to put a stranglehold on the top seed for the Class AAA playoffs with a win against the Indians. Winners of eight straight, Central Catholic holds a four-point lead on North Allegheny, with just three contests remaining. Conversely, Peters Township could leapfrog Erie Cathedral Prep into third place with a victory. The previous encounter between the teams in October was a high-scoring affair, with the Vikings coming out on top, 8-6.

Thursday, Feb. 9: Fan choice (Trinity vs Carrick, Chartiers Valley vs Thomas Jefferson, Montour vs Beaver or North Allegheny vs Bethel Park) with Sean Meyers and Kevin Zielmanski, or Rob Longo and Mike Azadian – Voting for the video spotlight game ends Wednesday, Feb. 8 at noon.

Monday, Feb. 13: Erie Cathedral Prep vs North Allegheny at 7, and Quaker Valley vs Moon at 9, both at the Baierl Ice Complex is Warrendale with Bob Orkwis and Sean Meyers – The first contest pits the second and third-place teams in Class AAA against each other, as the Tigers can lock down the second spot with a win. When the teams met on Nov. 15, North Allegheny was dominant, as the Tigers notched a 5-1 road win. That was the last time the Ramblers tasted defeat, however, as they followed up with a tie in their next tilt, and have since won the past eight games. In the nightcap, two powerhouse teams from the Class AA West Division do battle, as Moon is currently tied for first in the entire classification with 27 points, while Quaker Valley’s 22 points are good for fifth. The first matchup between the division foes came last month, a 5-3 win for Moon.

Shaler vs Hampton at Pittsburgh Ice Connection in Valencia at 7, with Steve Nagler and Cory Campano – Hampton has already clinched a playoff bid in Class AA, while the Titans are also in good shape, currently tied with Greater Latrobe for third in the East Division. The squads clashed in the season opener on Oct. 4, with the Talbots claiming a 5-4 win in overtime, courtesy of a goal by Jordan Zabroski.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the PIHL Notebook, but check back every Tuesday for the latest edition. Also, tomorrow marks the special 200th episode of the Chatham University PIHL Power Play Show at 8 p.m. Hosts Josh Rowntree and Kevin Zielmanski will welcome back the creator and former host of the show, Adam Hoerner.

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