Unbeaten Hempfield, rest of PIHL eager for return

Friday, December 25, 2020 | 3:41 PM

Hempfield is one of three hockey teams without a loss in PIHL Class AA in a season heavily impacted by covid issues.

The Spartans are 4-0 in league play after a 6-2 triumph over Shaler on Dec. 3. They are hoping, along with the rest of the league, things get back up to speed Jan. 4, when Gov. Tom Wolf’s winter spots shutdown orders to limit coronavirus spread are scheduled to end.

“This is a mature group of kids, and they understand that we’re trying to get through this as a group together as safely as possible,” Hempfield coach Eric Grant said.

“These players have been pretty resilient and positive as far as adapting. We’ve asked them to stay in shape and do stuff on their own. We’ve given them some different exercises to do.”

Hempfield had four games postponed, and all four have been rescheduled.

The Spartans will have some time to get ready for their next game, an interdivisional matchup Jan. 11 against Mars at Cranberry’s Baierl Ice Complex.

“They will be ready and excited to get back on the ice,” Grant said. “There might be a little rust we will have to burn off, but it should pick up from there. Mars is a good organization and is competitive year in and year out.”

Eight games across all four classifications are scheduled for Jan. 4 with 11 more set for Jan. 5. That includes Franklin Regional at Mars on Jan. 4 and Penn-Trafford at Meadville on Jan. 5.

“There’s a lot of people excited to get back on Jan. 4,” PIHL commissioner John Mucha said. “We’re still working on a return-to-play plan. We’re looking at an option where we would have part or all of that first week back be nothing but practices where teams use those game slots and ice time to get some work in and get back up to speed. The most important thing is the health and safety of the players, and we don’t want to do anything that would put them at risk.”

The plans, Mucha said, depend on whether or not Gov. Wolf keeps the Jan. 4 return date or decides to extend it.

“We will be OK if we don’t have any more shutdowns and all the rinks open back up,” Mucha said.

Numerous games remain to be rescheduled.

The regular season, which began in early November, runs through mid-March, and the Penguins Cup playoffs are scheduled to start in April. The league, anticipating a number of postponements, built in a couple of open weeks in between to make up games as necessary.

“The PIHL and the rinks have done an awesome job working with the teams to make this thing work and reschedule games,” Grant said. “I don’t know a group of people who could’ve done a better job. They’ve had a lot to take care of. They were prepared for any and all issues right from the start, and they’ve had to make many changes.”

Hempfield, led by Nicholas Bruno and Aiden Dunlap with six goals apiece, have eight points in the Class AA Southeast Division and are hoping to hold off Penn-Trafford (4-1), Franklin Regional (4-2) and Greater Latrobe (2-4-0-1).

The Warriors, who lost to Hempfield 5-1 on Nov. 9, last played Dec. 1 and defeated Latrobe, 6-5, in overtime on a goal from Xavier Solomon. Nate Loughner scored a goal in the game, giving him a team-best nine and 12 points on the season.

Franklin Regional got a pair of games in just days before the shutdown. The Panthers defeated Shaler, 5-4, in overtime on Dec. 7 and Latrobe, 3-0, a day later.

Luke Beatty tallied the winner against Shaler, and Logan Thom recorded a hat trick.

“This whole (Class AA) division is shaping up to be pretty strong,” Grant said. “You can’t take anyone for granted. If you do, you’re in trouble. There are a lot of well-coached teams. We want to keep the winning going, but nothing is a given.”

Greensburg Salem was rolling before the shutdown with three wins in seven days as part of a four-game winning streak. The Golden Lions (4-2) scored 18 goals in the three-game December stretch, upending Fox Chapel, Sewickley Academy and Quaker Valley to move into a tie with Indiana (eight points) atop the Class A Southeast Division.

Owen Tutich scored eight goals and added six assists in the three wins, including hat tricks against Sewickley Academy and Quaker Valley.

Norwin (2-3, four points) hopes to keep pace in the Southeast Division. The Knights, led by Logan Fear and Alex Thomas with five goals apiece, have not played since Nov. 23 and had three games, including one against Greensburg Salem, nixed because of the shutdown.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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