Trib HSSN PIHL Team of the Week: Franklin Regional

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Monday, March 11, 2019 | 12:02 AM


After back-to-back Class A Penguins Cup championships, Franklin Regional exited the postseason earlier than they hoped last season, bowing out in the quarterfinals to eventual Double-A champion Armstrong.

Fast forward to 2019, and the Panthers are one step away from the Class AA title game.

That’s because Franklin Regional recorded the only upset in last week’s PIHL playoffs. The Panthers, who entered the Class AA field as the third seed from the Southeast division, bested the Northwest Division’s second seed, Mars, 2-1, on Monday night.

Because of the win, Franklin Regional was selected as the TribLIVE High School Sports Network PIHL Team of the Week.

“We’re going through a lot of emotions up and down, and we knew it would be a tight game with Mars,” Panthers coach Brian Kurtz said. “The first time we saw them, it was tight and we knew it’d be up and down and a case of whoever-gets-the-lucky-bounce type of game.”

The teams only met once in the regular season, and Mars won in a shootout after the teams traded goals in each of the first two periods.

The playoff matchup started differently. Mars outshot the Panthers, 12-6, in the first period, but neither team scored.

The teams traded goals in the second in quick succession, as Trent Lunden got Franklin Regional on the board off passes from Olda Virag and Mathieu Sliva.

The Fightin’ Planets got a quick answer from William Foley off a feed from Jackson Krock.

The squads then went back and forth through most of the third period before Virag scored the winner at 14:58.

“Olda is a stud,” Kurtz said. “We rely a lot on him. He’s a senior. He’s a leader, and he had a special step in his game the other night. I know Mars was trying to do its best to match up against him, but he found a way, and he’s done that his whole career.”

Another big reason the Panthers won is this week’s PIHL Player of the Week, senior goaltender Danny Soltesz.

He stopped 37 of the 38 shots, including a late flurry after Mars pulled its goalie.

“Danny has nerves of steel. He’s calm in every situation and has always been that way,” Kurtz said. “We know that when he’s in net, he gives us an opportunity to compete and win every night.”

For that goaltending effort to happen, the defense still needed to be good, and it was, according to Kurtz.

A matchup between Franklin Regional defenseman Dylan Lee and Mars’ Braden Hanna stood out to Kurtz, as the two fought for position in front of the net for an extended period.

“That battle in particular was playoff hockey, and the officials let them play it out,” Kurtz said. “The two of them really went at it, and it’s something you didn’t really see in Dylan Lee the last few years, but it’s nice to see.”

Upper St. Clair is the next for Franklin Regional, a team that beat FR twice during the regular season. Both were one-goal games, with the first going to a shootout.

“They’re a well-coached team with a real high-octane offense,” said Kurtz. “We have to try and shut down their top three and play a solid team defense. We gave up two, two-goal leads in the second game against them. So we need to play a full 51 minutes and try to find some secondary scoring beyond Olda and some of our other top guys, because they’ll do some things to try and shut them down.”

Faceoff is 9 p.m. March 13 at the RMU Island Sports Center. A broadcast with live video will be available at tribhssn.triblive.com.

PIHL Honorable Mentions (Week of March 4):

• Elsewhere in AA, all of the higher seeds won, including Upper St. Clair, Latrobe and Pine-Richland.

• In AAA, fourth-seeded Mt. Lebanon stopped one of the PIHL’s hottest teams in Cathedral Prep, 7-3, to advance to the semifinals. Other quarterfinal winners in AAA included North Allegheny, Bethel Park and Peters Township, the third of which earned a shutout victory over ninth-seeded Canon-McMillan, 3-0.

• In Class A, Montour, Thomas Jefferson, South Fayette and West Allegheny earned impressive wins to advance, and in Division 2’s playoffs, Neshannock, Ringgold, Burrell and Connellsville advanced to the semis.

All eight of this week’s semifinals will be video streamed live at tribhssn.triblive.com.

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