Pine-Richland hockey team thrives in pressure situations

Sunday, February 6, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Pine-Richland hockey enters the final month of the regular season in a tight race for playoff positioning with only nine points separating second place from seventh in the PIHL Class 3A standings.

Considering how many close games the Rams have been in, they’ve already got a taste of what the home stretch will be like.

Since December, five of Pine-Richland’s games have been decided by two goals or less, with four of them being one-goal games.

The Rams went 6-2 during that stretch and are 11-4 overall and in third place in the standings with five games remaining.

“Playing in all of these close games will be beneficial for us down the stretch and into the playoffs,” Pine-Richland coach Jordan Yoklic said. “It’s helped show our younger guys how competitive Class 3A is at the varsity level. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think our guys are up to the task.”

In the last eight games, the Rams earned wins over Peters Township, which is in second place, Bethel Park, Central Catholic, Cathedral Prep and Baldwin twice. The losses came against Class 3A leader North Allegheny and Seneca Valley.

Part of the success stems from balance throughout the lineup. Seven Rams have recorded 10 or more points led by Alex Erlain, who has nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points.

Carson Kalpakis leads the team with 12 goals and has 18 points. Michael Mengine has 14 points, Esai Morse 13 and Joshua Folmer 11. Identical twins Ryan and Shawn Peacock, oddly enough, have identical stats with five goals and five assists each for 10 points.

With several players having to miss a game here or there due to injury, the Rams’ depth has shone through.

“We have some young guys, but we’re finding that balance to where we can roll our four lines and our six defensemen behind (Dan) Mooney in net,” Yoklic said. “That’s always the goal, and we’ve taken strides in a positive direction with that. We haven’t been healthy as we would’ve liked for every game, but our guys have been up for the challenge each night.”

Along with that balanced scoring, Mooney has continued to shine in net. He’s 10-3 with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage with one shutout. He ranks third in Class 3A in GAA and save percentage among goalies who have started more than 10 games.

“He’s a beast,” Yoklic said. “He has been an anchor in net, quite honestly. I know our players and us coaches have a ton of confidence in him. Ever since the season started, he’s been getting better and better. He did have a minor setback with an injury, but he’s back healthy and hasn’t missed a beat.

“We’ll be able to rely on him as the games get more and more difficult. The guys in front of him just want to make his life as easy as possible by clearing everyone from the front of the net so he can see the shots and make the saves.”

Pine-Richland’s final five-game stretch was scheduled to begin Feb. 7 against Mt. Lebanon. The Rams also play Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park, Cathedral Prep and Central Catholic. Four of the five games are at their home rink, Baierl Ice Complex in Warrendale.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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