PIHL notebook: Top teams look to maintain winning runs

Monday, January 15, 2018 | 12:20 AM

Although there is snow on the ground and temperatures in the single digits, the action on the ice continues to heat up as the playoff picture becomes clearer.

Every team has returned to action after the holiday break, and some squads only have a handful of regular-season games remaining.

Here's a look at four teams that kept winning streaks intact from last week:

Class AAA: Mt. Lebanon (5 games) — The Blue Devils continued their surge with their most impressive performance of the season last week, an 8-1 triumph against Cathedral Prep. Mt. Lebanon has defeated the Ramblers twice during this winning streak, in addition to victories against North Allegheny, Butler and Bethel Park. Consequently, while the Blue Devils remained in the fifth spot in the classification, they are just four points out of the top spot. Mt. Lebanon will host last-place Plum on Thursday.

Class AA: Armstrong (10 games) — Another week, another win for the River Hawks. The long layoff over the holiday break didn't slow down Armstrong, which dismantled Mars, 12-2, on Thursday. Although the River Hawks haven't lost since their season opener Oct. 12, they will have two stiff tests this week, as they travel to play Hampton on Monday, and then welcome Latrobe to the Belmont Ice Complex on Thursday. The Talbots rank second, behind only Armstrong, in the North/West Division, while the IceCats lead the South/East Division.

Class A: Bishop McCort (14 games) — No team in the PIHL can match the Crimson Crushers' mark of 14 straight victories. While the top four teams in Class A are all riding at least five-game winning streaks, Bishop McCort holds the top mark, in part because it played two games last week, while Meadville was idle. The undefeated Crimson Crushers received a pair of stiff road tests, but edged Thomas Jefferson and South Fayette, each 6-4. The team returns home Tuesday to host a showdown against nearby Westmont Hilltop.

Division 2: Elizabeth Forward (4 games) — The ascension of the Warriors continued this past week, as Elizabeth Forward defeated Connellsville, 6-3. As a result, the Warriors leapfrogged the Falcons into fourth in the standings, with 15 points. Next up for EF is first-place Moon, as the teams meet Thursday at Rostraver Ice Garden.

In the spotlight

A year after finishing 8-10-0 and missing the postseason, Connellsville has improved in 2017-18 and looks to be headed for the playoffs. The Falcons are 6-5-2-0, and their 14 points are good for fifth place in Division 2.

Offensively, Ryan Brown has eight goals and 27 assists, by far the best mark in the classification. He also ranks second in total points, trailing only Burrell's Tyler Stewart. Aside from Brown, Gregory Hensh, Travis Sipple and Michael Mckitrick pace the attack for Connellsville, which has a cooperative program with nearby districts Laurel Highlands and Southmoreland.

The Falcons have used both of their goalies frequently, as Sebastian Skarzenski has played in nine contests, while Gerald Furajter has appeared in seven games. Skarzenski has a record of 4-4, with a goals-against average of 3.26 and a save percentage of .903. Furajter, meanwhile, is 2-3, with a 5.07 goals-against average and a .833 save percentage.

Under the guidance of coach Ray Brown, the Falcons will aim to solidify their postseason position over their five remaining games. Connellsville will be home at the Ice Mine for four of those contests, with the lone road game coming against last-place Carrick.

Slapshots on slate

The TribLive High School Sports Network will broadcast a key showdown in Class A Monday. Meadville will play at West Allegheny at 7 p.m. at the Baierl Ice Complex in Warrendale, with Matt Vandriak and Adam Hoerner on commentary, and Chelsea Rowntree filming.

This meeting pits teams tied for second place in Class A. Meadville is undefeated in its 12 contests, while West Allegheny boasts a record of 12-2-0-0, including five-straight wins. The Bulldogs have primarily found success because of their stingy defense, which has allowed just 24 goals, the lowest mark in the classification. Goaltender Eddie Kaufman has been a wall between the pipes, as he boasts a goals-against average of 1.50, a save percent of .925, and two shutouts.

Meanwhile, the Indians possess the top offense in Class A, as they have netted 91 goals. The combination of Jacob Gyergyo and Kellen Almady have produced 38 and 36 points, respectively. This matchup marks the only regular-season meeting between the teams.

To get the latest information on high-school hockey, tune in to the PIHL Powerplay Show at 8 p.m. Wednesday on the TribLive High School Sports Network. Hosts Josh Rowntree and Kevin Zielmanski will interview top players and coaches, and will also discuss the standings and playoff picture in each classification.

Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.

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