Plum hockey gets healthy in time for PIHL playoffs push

Friday, January 31, 2020 | 5:17 PM

Every hockey team deals with bumps and bruises, but, in January, Plum could have used a M.A.S.H. unit.

Leading scorers Logan Schlegel and Nic Pushic went down with injuries in late December. Then, Tyler Vecchio, Dan Baranowski and Parker Gable were injured after the holiday break.

That left Plum without five of its 16 skaters in of the lineup and without most of its experience.

The short-handed Mustangs lost the four games they played in January, but they managed to hold on to the top spot in PIHL Class AA’s Northeast Division.

With three games remaining in the regular season, Plum is getting healthier, and the Mustangs are eyeing a division title.

“It’s kind of crazy that it all happened in the middle of the season,” Plum coach Phil Mains said. “We didn’t lose one guy here or there. We lost them all at the same time. It gave young guys more ice time than they would’ve had otherwise. I think they’ve become better through this. Getting our top guys, our seniors, back and inserting them with our young guys, hopefully, we’ll be stronger than ever.”

The Mustangs (6-8-1) lead Armstrong by two points in the division-title race, but the River Hawks have a game in hand.

Plum hosted Meadville on Monday for its senior night in a result that did not finish in time for this edition. Mains expected Pushic and Gable to play and was optimistic Baranowski also would play. Vecchio also is on track to return soon.

Schlegel returned two weeks against Penn-Trafford after missing six games.

“It was really tough having to watch, because you wish you could be out there helping your team out,” Schlegel said. “You hate to see your boys struggle out there with such a small bench.”

Only five Plum players have appeared in every game.

The height of the team’s injury plague came in last week’s 9-5 loss to Montour.

Plum started with 10 skaters, but freshman Zach Miller sat out the third period because of illness. That left Plum with less than two forward lines.

Mains still had his timeout remaining, and he planned to use it at the halfway point of the third. That meant Schlegel needed to skate from the beginning of the third until Mains called timeout.

Schlegel responded by scoring three goals and finished with five for the game. In nine games, Schlegel has scored 20 goals, which is tied for fourth in Class AA.

“I told him the biggest take away from that third period is that he should be able to do that any game,” Mains said. “Obviously, his ice time will go down a little bit when we get guys back, but he should be fresher and be able to take over a game like that and lead us through the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. I’m excited to get these guys back and give him some help.”

Plum needs one more victory to clinch a playoff spot, but likely will need more than one win to secure the division title. Divisional winners receive a home playoff game.

Plum faces Shaler and South Fayette, two teams on the outside of the playoff picture, in its final two games.

The hope is that the injuries are out of the way, and the focus can be on trying to make a postseason run.

“With all of these injuries, the players that were out there were learning a lot from getting more ice time,” Schlegel said. “The players there are out are all hungry to get back in the lineup. I feel like we can be a really dangerous team once were all back and working together.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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