Pine-Richland hockey team solidly in Class AAA mix

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Saturday, April 3, 2021 | 11:01 AM


A glance at the PIHL Class AAA standings shows the field is wide open with the top five teams separated by four points.

A closer look at Pine-Richland’s season really highlights the parity.

The Rams, who were third in the final standings, split with the other top-five teams: Peters Township, Canon-McMillan, North Allegheny and Seneca Valley.

It makes for a challenging but exciting road for the Rams as they try to add another Penguins Cup to the case after winning Class AA in 2019.

Pine-Richland (14-6) was scheduled to play No. 6 Upper St. Clair in the first round at 9 p.m. Monday.

“We understand the competition in triple-A is really tough,” Pine-Richland coach Jordan Yoklic said. “Every team is going to be bringing their A-game. The parity is definitely there. These are high-skilled, high-intensity and emotional games. We have to make sure we’re playing as an excited group that outworks teams and plays the game the right way by doing everything we can to support each other on the ice. If we are playing our style of hockey and outworking teams, we’re confident no matter who we play against.”

With games that are expected to be tight throughout, special teams will loom large.

The Rams power play has the ability to be a difference-maker.

Pine-Richland’s power play has scored 20 times, and eight players have scored at least once with the man advantage. Charlie Mill leads the way with five power-play goals and four assists. He leads the team in scoring with 27 points.

Connor Salsbury has scored four of his nine goals on the power play, and Dominic Desjardins and Samuel Perry have three power-play goals apiece.

“We have 10 guys that deserve that ice time on special teams. At practice we try to make it as competitive as possible between power play unit 1A and 1B, if you want to call them that. They have the mentality that if we’re not getting that power play goal in the first minute, then the second unit should be coming on looking to bury a goal. They all are doing a good job of passing, finding open areas and getting prime scoring opportunities. That’s a big deal to be able to cash in when you are on the man advantage.”

As important as striking on the power play can be for momentum in a one-and-done scenario, getting a penalty kill also can provide a major boost.

Yoklic said the penalty kill has been a yearlong work in progress, and numbers suggest the Rams have improved.

Pine-Richland successfully killed 14 of 17 power plays over the last five games. The Rams have four short-handed goals this year, including two by Perry.

“That’s one of the areas we wanted to clean up going into the playoffs, and I think we’ve shown improvement,” Yoklic said. “I think the most important thing though is to stay out of the penalty box all together. We’ve had a tendency to take an undisciplined penalty and put ourselves in a rough position defensively where we have to kill a penalty we shouldn’t. You can’t do that in the playoffs, and I think our guys know that.”

Having a goalie who can steal a game is another linchpin to playoff success, and the Rams had that in their 2019 run with Danny Stauffer. Backing up Stauffer during that run and last season was James Saber.

Now Saber is the guy who will be relied upon, and he’s shown he’s capable. He sported a 12-5 record with a 2.49 goals-against average in the regular season.

“Saber deserves a ton of credit because he’s been in a tough position of being the backup the last couple years, but he’s made it a clear goal for himself to be better every single time he’s on the ice,” Yoklic said. “His hard work and effort has paid off, and he’s earned this opportunity.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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