Westmoreland County hockey teams prepare for Penguins Cup playoff run

Monday, March 6, 2023 | 9:00 AM

For hockey teams still competing this time of year in the PIHL, the buzz around the rink automatically is amped up a notch.

This is the case for a handful of teams around Westmoreland County that are competing in the Penguins Cup playoffs.

Greensburg Salem (17-3) earned the 2B seed in Class A playoffs after finishing second in the Blue Division with 34 points. The Golden Lions were just two points behind Fox Chapel for the division crown.

By finishing in one of the first two spots, Greensburg Salem earned a bye into the quarterfinals. The Golden Lions face Shaler (10-9-1) at 7:15 p.m. March 9, at Kirk Nevin Arena.

“It’s a nice luxury to have. The boys have earned every bit of that,” coach Corey Mentch said. “Since June, when we started to get together for off-ice workouts, the feeling around this team was entirely different.

“They’ve been bought in since Day 1. They’ve been focused on this goal and getting to this point of the season. They’ve earned it, and it’s not a surprise based on their work ethic that they are here.”

The Golden Lions led Class A in goals-against average (1.74) behind thee duo of sophomore Tristan Gonzales (11-3, 1.86 goals-against average) and junior Ethan Patrick (6-0, 1.16).

“Our goaltenders have been stellar. EP, our backup, has slightly better numbers than Tristan. But Tristian has made the big save when he has to,” Mentch said. “The four defensemen that we like to run at the top are fantastic. We have a little bit of depth behind them. The team as a whole does a really good job of possessing the puck and just hounding when we don’t have the puck. It makes it difficult for teams to put up a lot of volume against us. It’s a top-to-bottom effort for sure.”

Offensively, Greensburg Salem has been led by Owen Tutich, who finished the regular season with team highs in goals (20), assists (25) and points (53).

“The stat sheet speaks for itself in terms of what he brings to the team offensively. At any given moment, he can take over a game. He’s a smaller player, but he’s very difficult to get off the puck,” Mentch said.

“He’s a hound on the puck. He has a nose for the puck and is a natural goal scorer. Above all else, what he has done as a leader has been his biggest impact. The younger boys look up to him. When your best player is the first one on the ice at every practice, it goes a really long way.”

Juniors Carter Cherok and Chase Kushner each finished the season with 18 goals.

Greensburg Salem returned to the playoffs after missing last year’s postseason after being on the wrong end of a three-team tiebreaker.

“We are going to play very difficult teams regardless of where we are. We are ready for that challenge. Whoever gets put in front of us, we are ready to play,” Mentch said.

Greensburg Salem remains optimistic with its chances in Class A because the Golden Lions split with Fox Chapel, Norwin and Indiana, who are on the other side of the bracket. The Golden Lions defeated the Foxes, 4-0, in their second matchup Feb. 2. Norwin and Indiana had the Golden Lions’ number in their most recent matchups as Greensburg Salem was outscored 12-6 in those games.

However, Mentch said the Fox Chapel win that followed those two losses seemed to get the Golden Lions back to playing better hockey as they finished the season with a four-game winning streak where they outscored opponents 20-3.

“We needed a little jolt emotionally and something really big to play for,” he said. “To come out on top, I think that really boosted us late in the season when I thought we weren’t playing our best down the stretch there.”

Also in Class A, Norwin (16-4-1) advanced to the playoffs and defeated West Allegheny in the play-in round. The Knights will face McDowell in the quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Erie Bank Arena.

The Knights are paced by Alex Thomas, who leads Class A with 70 points (38 goals, 32 assists), as well as Mario Cavallaro (26-15-41) and Dom Cerilli (19-21-40).

Knights goalie Owen Burmeister finished the season 12-4-1 with a 3.47 GAA.

In Class 2A, all four Westmoreland County teams qualified for the eight-team playoffs. No. 8 Hempfield faces No. 1 Armstrong at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Belmont. No. 4 Penn-Trafford hosts No. 5 Thomas Jefferson at 6 p.m. Monday at Palmer Imaging Arena. No. 7 Franklin Regional plays No. 2 South Fayette at 9:10 p.m. Monday at Mt. Lebanon, and No. 6 Latrobe heads to 1st Summit Arena to play No. 3 Bishop McCort at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Penn-Trafford finished in fourth place with 26 points with Latrobe just two points behind in sixth. Franklin Regional (21 points) and Hempfield (15 points) finished in seventh and eighth place.

Penn-Trafford (13-7) swept South Fayette, which is second in Class 2A, with 6-3 win Dec. 5 and 5-1 win Feb. 14.

Latrobe (11-7) swept Bishop McCort, which is third in Class 2A, with a 12-0 win Dec. 1 and 7-2 win Jan. 12.

Franklin Regional (10-8) won its second meetings against Penn-Trafford and Latrobe.

Hempfield (7-11) had wins over Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford.

Hempfield’s Nick Bruno led Class 2A with 65 points (30 goals and 35 assists). Franklin Regional’s Matthew Knizner was second with 48 points (25-23).

Other notable local scoring leaders include: Hempfield’s Caden Horton (18-25-43), Penn-Trafford Xavier Solomon (24-18-42), Franklin Regional’s Luke Lavrich (14-25-39), Latrobe’s Peyton Myers (12-24-36) and Latrobe’s Fletcher Harvey (16-18-34).

Of the four local teams, Latrobe had the best GAA at 2.78. The Wildcats have a duo of Connor Keddie (4-3-1, 2.36) and JM Krajc (7-4, 3.02).

Penn-Trafford has been led in net by Jackson Kerrigan (11-7, 3.21). Franklin Regional’s goaltending mostly has been handled by Nolan Shillling (10-7-1, 3.80). Hempfield has split goaltending duties between Chase Sankey (5-4, 4.37) and Blaise Becker (2-7-1, 5.23).

The PIHL Penguins Cup championship games are set for March 20-21, at UPMC Lemieux Complex in Cranberry.

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