PIHL Team of the Week: Plum Mustangs
By: Kyle Dawson
Sunday, December 23, 2018 | 4:54 PM
Two seasons ago, the Plum hockey team celebrated the school’s second PIHL title.
At the end of that season, Plum lost several of its best players.
A year later, the Mustangs bowed out of the playoffs in the first round.
Fast forward to the start of the 2018-19 season, and Plum has a first-year coach and a youth injection that has led to a competitive start to the season.
Now, the Class AA Southeast standings have Plum in last place at 3-6-2. The eight points are one-point shy of Baldwin for sixth, two shy of fifth place and eight shy of a four-way tie for second place.
Phil Mains, the coach of the Mustangs, knows how important the games are at this juncture.
His team is this week’s TribLIVE High School Sports Network PIHL Team of the Week, after the Mustangs picked up an important 5-2 win over Armstrong in come-from-behind fashion Monday.
“It was a big win, but they’re all big now,” Mains said. “We were playing well despite them taking the lead on us early. We needed to stick to our plan and what we were doing, and we seemed to do that well.”
The formula involved getting a lot of shots on goal, which Plum did. The Mustangs put 36 shots on Armstrong goaltender Ryan Bowser, who Mains said played well and big in the net.
Down 1-0 after one period of play, the Mustangs tallied two second-period goals, one by Donovan Palmer and one by Logan Schlegel, to take a 2-1 advantage to the third.
After the River Hawks tied the contest 4:57 into the final period, Plum scored the next three goals, including an empty netter to seal the deal.
It was a win, Mains said, that was big for the team’s confidence, and one that built on a 4-3 loss to Mars the week prior, that Mains thought his team played very well in.
Mars is second in Class AA’s Northwest division.
“The Mars game was big for us. We were up 3-2 on that game before they scored two goals early in the third,” Mains said. “I thought it was one of our best games of the year, and I was happy we were able to build off that. The Armstrong game is also one we’d like to build upon. The guys seem comfortable.”
Joe Miller, a sophomore goaltender, has taken over as the No. 1 goalie for the Mustangs, and stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced.
Plum has had some issues, according to Mains, with having its full lineup, due to injuries and travel issues with amateur hockey.
“The last two games we’ve had pretty much what our full team will look like, but from what I understand, we should have our full cast in the second half,” Mains said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
Plum was set to play an exhibition game against Burrell, a charity game to raise money for the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting Sunday.
It’s next scheduled game is against Hempfield, who Plum lost to at the start of the season.
“We were winning, and they scored to tie it with one second left in the third and won it with one second left in overtime. I’ve never seen that before,” Mains said. “I’m hoping for a similar effort like we’ve had the last few weeks, and it’ll be a challenge, but I think it’ll be a good game.”
Mars: Mars defeated Penn-Trafford, 6-3, Monday to, for a few days, pull into a tie atop Class AA’s Northwest standings alongside unbeaten Pine-Richland, before the Rams defeated Moon to retake the sole lead in the division. With the Rams win, they remain one of three unbeaten teams in the PIHL, along with Division II’s Burrell, and Class A’s Montour, which defeated West Allegheny in a matchup of, at the time, first- and second-place teams.
Burrell defeated Ringgold 7-6 last week.
South Park: South Park picked up a 10-3 win over Norwin, which had a good start to the season. South Park is now second in Class A’s South Division.
Connellsville: Connellsville defeated Central Valley, 10-0, Thursday, highlighted by a hat trick from Milan Deffibaugh.
North Allegheny: After picking up a 5-0 win over Seneca Valley last week, North Allegheny defeated Class AAA power Mt. Lebanon, 6-3, Monday.
No PIHL teams will play scheduled games before Jan. 3, 2019.
Kyle Dawson is a freelance writer.