With safety protocols in place, PIHL season set to begin

Sunday, November 1, 2020 | 2:50 PM

Ice rinks across Western Pennsylvania again will be put to use Monday night when the PIHL commences the varsity high school hockey season.

For the first time since the PIHL halted play in mid-March during the Penguins Cup playoffs, teams will take to the ice.

Following safety protocols set forth by the governor’s office, area school districts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the PIHL is prepared for a season like no other being conducted amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

“We wanted to get back on the ice in the safest manor possible,” PIHL commissioner John Mucha said. “We made sure that schools have to have a policy, and the teams are following those policies.”

The varsity season was delayed about a month, awaiting the governor’s decision to expand indoor gathering limits.

Rather than the previous 25-person indoor limit, rinks now are permitted to allow between 10% and 20% capacity, depending on the facility’s size, which allows teams to play 5-on-5 and for fans to be in attendance.

PIHL teams play in about 25 rinks in Western Pennsylvania and parts of West Virginia, and each has a covid-19 policy in place.

Because of the delay, the season will be compacted. In past years, most teams played once per week, with an occasional second game scheduled in a week. This year’s schedule includes several weeks with two games and even some back-to-back contests.

“It’s been challenging to get the schedule done, but the organizations, teams and boards have been very understanding and very cooperative,” Mucha said. “We’ve gotten no real push back about playing two games in a week. Everyone has been very understanding.”

The PIHL scheduled 20 regular-season games for teams in Class AAA and A. Teams in Class AA and Class B have 18 scheduled games.

The regular season will run through mid-March, and the Penguins Cup playoffs are scheduled to start in April. There will be a couple of open weeks in between in case teams need to make up games that were postponed for covid-19 concerns.

The state championships tentatively are planned for the third week of April.

“We want to have as close to a full season as possible, and we’ve done what we can working with the organizations and the rinks to get a full season in and playoffs,” Mucha said.

Mucha said the league isn’t likely to hold its annual All-Star games, but that decision hasn’t been finalized.

On the ice, expectations are high for several teams. Last season’s Class AAA playoff tournament came to a close in the semifinals, leaving North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley and Peters Township wondering what could have been.

In Class AA, Baldwin and Latrobe were set to meet in the championship game, and Thomas Jefferson and Indiana were in the same situation in Class A.

Thomas Jefferson since has moved up to Class AA.

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@triblive.com or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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