PIHL Player of the Week for Oct. 13, 2019

Sunday, October 13, 2019 | 9:31 PM

Last season, Bishop McCort was ineligible for the Penguins Cup Playoffs because of the amount of foreign-exchange students on the team.

The Crusaders were one of the best teams by record in Varsity A, but graduated a large number of players.

This season, Bishop McCort, said long-time coach John Bradley, is running two lines of forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender.

Two of the skaters are foreign-exchange students, which makes the Crusaders eligible for the postseason. One is Nikita Zapolski, who scored 34 points last year, and has one this year. The other is off to the best start of any player in the PIHL and is from Magnitogorsk, Russia.

That hometown should sound familiar to Pittsburgh hockey fans. It is the same hometown as Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.

That other player is Adis Ultanbekov, and after a five-goal, three-assist night against Westmont Hilltop this past week, he is the second TribLIVE High School Sports Network PIHL Player of the Week. He was an honorable mention after a five-point night in the season opener two weeks ago.

“From Adis, you’re going to see that every game could very well be this way,” Bradley said. “He just turned 16. He’s a big, strong kid that can shoot the puck, and he’s a kid that knows the game offensively and defensively.”

Bradley said Ultanbekov is as good with the puck as he is without the puck, and he always is looking to set up his teammates.

“Right now he’s playing with Ben Berkebile, who did not play last year because he had a stroke, so Adis has given him a lot of pucks. But Ben is still working on getting back,” Bradley said. “The other two he’s been playing with are freshmen. He might have 10 points that aren’t there because of that.”

Ultanbekov scored the first two goals in the win Tuesday before assisting on the third, scoring the fourth, assisting on the next two and scoring the final two.

It was quite the night for the Russian, whom Bradley said does so much well.

In fact, Adis scored on all five shots he fired on goal.

“He can absolutely fire the puck, but by the same token, there’s guys that can shoot it and will from anywhere. He’s not that way,” sad Bradley. “If his shot isn’t a high-percentage shot, he’s going to pass it to someone else.”

If he stays on this pace, there’s a good chance Ultanbekov will lead the classification — and perhaps the league — in scoring.

For Bradley, though, it’s not just the skill that makes Adis unique, despite a bit of language struggles.

“His English isn’t great, but I think he’s a good leader in the sense that he takes a lot of pride in scoring and winning,” Bradley said. “He’ll help guys when they’re in trouble, and often he has guys draped all over him. But he’s a guy that brings so much excitement and wears the McCort jersey with so much pride that it’s infectious. Him playing in this league could be one of the best things ever for the PIHL.”

As mentioned, Ultanbekov is from the same place in Russia as Malkin, whom he hasn’t met but is one of his heroes.

Bradley was college roommates with Penguins coach Mike Sullivan and friends with equipment manager Dana Heinze.

A few years back, the Crusaders brought three foreign-exchange players to meet Malkin, but none was from Magnitogorsk. Bradley is working to see if a meeting can be arranged between the injured forward and Ultanbekov.

Adis just wants to win, Bradley said, and is the best type of kid to have on a team.

“He doesn’t want people to think it’s about him,” Bradley said. “He’s truly one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet, and people need to make sure they get out to see him play. It’s fun to watch.”

Ultanbekov and the Crusaders will play at 8 p..m. Monday at Center Ice against Norwin Monday.

Honorable mentions:

· Tanner Cindrich (Baldwin): For the second time this season, Cindrich allowed just one goal in a Highlanders win, as Baldwin moved to 2-0 with a 5-1 win over West Allegheny on the back of 36 saves by the first-year starter.

· Shane Peremba (South Park): Peremba made 36 saves and was the winning goaltender in a shootout as the Eagles topped Chartiers Valley on Monday in Class A.

· Riley Mastowski (Neshannock), Mario Eafrati (Canon-Mac), Jon Chopp (Trinity) and Josh Bailey (North Allegheny): All four goaltenders recorded their first shutouts of the season this past week. Mastowski made 39 saves in a 5-0 win over Burrell in Class B. Eafrati stopped all 28 shots he faced as Canon-Mac defeated Cathedral Prep Tuesday in Class AAA. Chopp made saves on all 31 shots he faced as the Hillers beat Connellsville, 5-0. Bailey, who replaces graduated TribHSSN Class AAA Goalie of the Year in Richie Karapandi at North Allegheny, stopped 17 shots as the Tigers began their Penguins Cup defense with a 3-0 win Thursday over Mount Lebanon.

· Jonas Sopko (Burrell): In a loss, Sopko scored seven points, notching four goals and three assists Thursday in an 11-9 game won by Central Valley.

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