By Matt Popchock
Welcome to another new feature of the “Mr. High School Sports” blog, the PIHL Preview! Now that the calendar page has turned to 2011, the regular season is heating up and big things are on the hockey horizon. Therefore, Mr. High School Sports feels compelled to prepare you for the most compelling matchups of each week, and we’re waiting to see if any of the four remaining unbeatens in the league bow tomorrow or Friday after one of them did so Monday. So without further ado, here are a few of the biggest games coming to a rink near you:
CLASS A, NON-SECTION
Mars (11-0-0) @ Serra Catholic (8-1-0) (9:20) – Rostraver Ice Garden
Since the still-undefeated Planets won the first meeting 5-1 back on Oct. 26, the Eagles have flocked to the top of Section 3 on the strength of a seven-game winning streak, but they’ve got a vastly improved South Fayette squad right on their tails. Jarrett Ruchka scored Serra’s lone goal in that October contest, and he has gone on to net 13 of them, not to mention 28 points, in just seven games. But he and Tyler Speis, who has also put up 28 points as a sophomore, are trying to solve the universal mystery of Class A: how to score on Mars. Its incredible eight goals allowed are a league-low, Tyler Stepke’s 0.57 GAA and .962 save percentage are both tops in the classification, and he’s been getting steady support from guys like Elliot Tisdale, who leads the team with 36 points and ten multiple-point games.
CLASS AA, NON-SECTION
Bishop Canevin (10-1-0) @ Latrobe (7-2-1) (7:15) – Kirk Nevin Arena
The Wildcats may be three-time Pennsylvania Cup champions, but nowadays the Crusaders are looking more like the best in the west after an impressive triumph in the non-league Director’s Cup Tournament and back-to-back wins over fellow Penguins Cup contender West Allegheny, most recently in the PIHL Winter Classic. Furthermore, Canevin got its second half off on the right foot with a mercy-rule shutout of Franklin Regional, another school from Latrobe’s Section 4, and the duo of Frank Vance and Matt Walsh have really clicked, combining for 19 goals and 54 points. Latrobe’s similar scoring depth presents a worthy matchup as it tries to go for three in a row and move to fourth overall in Class AA, led by Zach LaDuke, who will try to extend an eight-game goal streak and add to a team-best 31 points.
CLASS AAA, SECTION 4
State College (3-5-2) @ Norwin (4-6-1) (8:15) – Center Ice
It had to be frustrating for the Little Lions to make the long bus ride to the North Shore for the PIHL Winter Classic, only to get blanked by stubborn Bethel Park, but the good news is Section 4 remains wide-open, and with first-place Penn-Trafford idle till Monday after losing to Fox Chapel, State College can overtake the Warriors for the top spot in the section with a win Friday. The Lions won the first meeting with Norwin 7-4 back on Nov. 12, punctuated by a Daniel Moscone hat trick, and they could really use another big night from him or someone else to jump-start their struggling offense. Moscone has notched five goals and 13 points in his other seven appearances, while the Knights have counted on the tandem of Dan Merz and Neil Stewart, whose ten goals apiece have helped them go 2-1-1 in their last four.
OPEN CLASS, NON-SECTION
Harbor Creek (10-0-0) @ John Marshall (7-3-1) (8:30) – Wheeling Civic Center
Something might have to give as another of the remaining four PIHL perfectionists puts its record on the line and matches its offense against the best in the classification for the second time this season. The Erie-based Huskies have made quite a splash since joining the league as a first-time member, racking up 74 goals in the first half of the 2010-11 campaign, and accounting for 13 of them is Andrew Hermann, whose six power play tallies rank second in the Open Class. However, the Monarchs have one-upped the Section 2 leaders–well, “two-upped” them, actually–with 76 goals on the season, and they have earned points in three of four games since getting blown out by Harbor Creek Dec. 5. Isaac Fitzpatrick scored a pair of goals against Morgantown Tuesday and has registered five of his 12 while shorthanded, so it’s important that senior netminder Zach Cook stay sharp.
For continuing coverage of the PIHL and Penguins Cup Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!