Slim margin of error for Shaler hockey team

Sunday, February 11, 2018 | 10:48 PM

With the PIHL Class AA season winding down, the playoff picture is clear for Shaler's hockey team.

Beat South/East Division rivals Hempfield and Franklin Regional to end the season, and the Titans could climb as high as second place. Lose one or either game, and Shaler will be out of the playoffs and possibly in last place.

Entering Monday's game against Hempfield that ended after deadline for the edition, the Titans (15-9-2, 8-7-2) sat in a tie for fifth place with Penn-Trafford with 18 points. Shaler was three points behind Franklin Regional for second place.

The top five teams from each division make the postseason. Part of the problem for Shaler has been its in-division struggles.

“It's tough,” Titans coach Steve Stayduhar said. “Look at our overall record. For the league, we're 8-7-2. Overall, we are 15-9-2. Outside of our division, we are 12-2 against AA teams. Against the teams in our division, we've only been able to win two.”

Shaler beat Baldwin, 4-3, on Jan. 22 and Latrobe, 5-2, on Oct. 23 for the divisional wins.

The Titans' style is a factor. They enjoy getting up and down the ice and scoring goals. Most of the teams in their division are stingy defensively. Even last-place Baldwin, which has allowed the second-fewest goals in the classification with 56, has a defensive mindset.

Franklin Regional (51), Latrobe (56) and Hempfield (58) round out the top four and are the top three teams in the South/East Division.

Make a mistake while playing a fast pace, and those squads make you pay.

“It's bad matchups. Most of them play defense and are solid teams,” Stayduhar said. “It's tough because it's very competitive. Our division is 29-16 this season against the North/West Division.”

Shaler wants to play with a sharper focus to close the season. The Titans have been punished when they make mistakes — Shaler ranks 13th in AA with a 72.84 penalty kill percentage — but still have an opportunity to squeak in.

“It's very nerve-racking that it has to be this way once again, and we are all on our toes,” Titans senior forward Seth Walzer said. “We just need to make sure we get the puck out of our zone because usually when it's in our zone, we get trapped and that's when the other team usually scores.”

The Titans also had a strong finish last season to sneak in, then won their first playoff game.

“They talked about in the locker room,” Stayduhar said. “We keep hammering home for a lot of kids these will be the last two competitive games they play in life. Some of them will move on and play club in college. For some of them, we wanted to hammer home to give everything you got.”

Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.

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