By Matt Popchock
Inspired by the inaugural NHL Winter Classic, Bethel Park head hockey coach Jim McVay once collaborated with the Mount Lebanon Hockey Association, PIHL Commissioner Ed Sam, public officials, and local charities–not to mention the Pittsburgh Penguins–to create the PIHL Outdoor Charity Classic. Since its inception in 2008, the event has grown into an annual handful of games, usually featuring some of the most prominent teams and players in the area, which raises money for various causes.
As far as Mr. High School Sports is concerned, it’s one of the premier feel-good sporting events of the academic year, and 93.7 The Fan’s high school sports reporter is looking forward to braving these chilly Pittsburgh nights, come what may, just as he did over the holidays, to bring you extensive coverage of this event. Therefore, he drops the puck on this week’s PIHL Preview with a closer look at round one of the 2011 PIHL Outdoor Charity Series:
CLASS A, NON-SECTION
Mars (14-0-0) vs. Westmont Hilltop (10-2-0) (6:30) @ North Park Ice Rink
Beating the consensus No. 1 team in Class A, not to mention the reigning Pennsylvania Cup champions, is no walk–er–skate in the park, especially while fighting jet-lag from Johnstown (no pun intended…I promise). But don’t think for one second the Hilltoppers aren’t fired up to play this game. They’ve worked hard for two close victories since the calendar page turned to 2011 and have collected wins in four of their last five to pull within four points of Kittanning, one of the only teams to beat them, for the top spot in Section 4. Plus, they’ve made a video–a virtual pep rally of sorts–that can be seen on YouTube, and they’ll be playing for someone who meant a great deal to their community. Proceeds from this game benefit the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in honor of the late Dave “Ziggy” Ziegler, a Johnstown resident and former Pittsburgh Penguins staffer who died of brain cancer. But how will Corey Schafer, the second-leading scorer in Class A with 41 points, keep his ten-game point streak alive against the Planets, who have yielded just 12 goals all year? Tyler Stepke of Mars leads all starting goalies with a 1.00 GAA, a .938 save percentage, and three shutouts. Besides, their defense usually leads to the kind of offense that has been impossible for opponents to stop. Mars leads Class A with 118 goals, and it boasts the overall scoring leader, Elliot Tisdale, who, like Schafer, has netted 22 goals, and carries 44 points into this game. No. 4 Westmont is in action against Knoch Thursday, so it’ll be worth noting if the Planets appear to be the faster team Friday, at least early in the game.
CLASS AAA, SECTION 2
North Allegheny (10-3-1) vs. Seneca Valley (2-9-0) (8:30) @ North Park Ice Rink
So close, and now so far away…times have been considerably tougher for the Raiders, who twice came within a gnat’s eyelash of capturing their first-ever Penguins Cup. But Seneca returns to the spotlight Friday, ten days after snapping an eight-game losing streak with a non-section triumph over Penn-Trafford, and this team will take points any way they can get them, come rain, sleet, and/or snow. Seneca Valley sits in the basement of Section 2, two points behind Butler and five out of a playoff spot. Their last meeting with the Tigers, the section front-runners and the Post-Gazette’s No. 3 Class AAA squad, did not go well. North Allegheny spanked Seneca 8-0 back on Nov. 24, with defenseman and team captain Eric Barger scoring two of his five goals on the season that night. It’s symbolic of the way NA likes to win, with responsible play in its own end and without leaning too much on one player. Having said that, they surely hope December PIHL Player of the Month honoree and team scoring leader Ryan Worsena getting a goal in a recent victory over Norwin was an omen. Worsena went scoreless in back-to-back games after beginning the season on an 11-game point streak. But perhaps the real star of that team is goaltender Matthew Goda, leading all (regular) starters with a 1.74 GAA, a .925 save percentage, and five shutouts. Chris Marziatto had a hat trick for Seneca Valley in that game against Penn-Trafford, and after doubling his goal total to six, it’ll be interesting to watch this freshman grow. Proceeds from this game will benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Tickets are $7 for adults and children under 12 are admitted free, with the proceeds going to the aforementioned charities.
See what the team captains had to say about participating in the event, and about their recent visit to Penguins practice, thanks to my friends at the PIHL Network and Rubino Productions.
Meanwhile, here’s a couple indoor games you should keep an eye on…
CLASS AA, NON-SECTION
Moon (5-6-0) @ Chartiers Valley (10-3-0) (8:30) – Mount Lebanon Ice Arena
A surprising loss to lowly Greensburg C.C. didn’t keep consensus No. 4 Chartiers Valley off Bishop Canevin’s tail for the Section 3 lead. The Colts can move into a virtual dead heat with the Crusaders with a victory at home over the Tigers, who cling tenaciously to third place in Section 2, just one point ahead of last-place Erie Cathedral Prep for the No. 10 spot in the Penguins Cup standings. It won’t be an easy two points, though, because Moon has proven it has a pulse. The Tigers are coming off back-to-back upsets of arch-rival Montour and a huge one against Section 2 leader West Allegheny, and they boast the current second-greatest scorer in Class AA, Nigel Crighton, who is number two in points (35) and number three in goals (19). Crighton scored two of three Moon goals in a blowout loss to Char’ Valley in their season opener. His ten-game point streak is bigger than Justin Sabilla’s four-game streak, but Sabilla, a November PIHL Player of the Month honoree, should not be overlooked. He’s got 34 points, and he’s the second-leading sniper in Class AA with 24 goals–five of them in the first meeting alone. Sabilla has racked up five goals, three on the power play, and nine points for Chartiers Valley in his last four outings.
OPEN CLASS, SECTION 4
Ringgold (3-9-1) @ Derry (5-9-0) (8:30) – Center Ice
Assuming Mother Nature cooperates, a war of attrition will be waged on a sheet of ice in Delmont between the two bottom-feeders in Section 4, each of whom are trying to fend off Altoona for the final Chiefs Cup Playoff spot. Something has to give for one of these teams, especially the Rams, who have taken a plunge after winning the Open Cup and desperately need to halt their five-game losing streak to have any shot at defending their title. It hasn’t been Kevin Claybaugh’s fault, as the former GCC transfer has arguably taken over the mantle of best player in the Open Class. He leads the pack with 38 goals and 53 points in just 12 games and notched an incredible 10th hat trick of the season–five tallies, to be exact–in a wild 9-8 OT loss to Ford City last week. Problem is, Claybaugh hasn’t gotten a lot of help; the rest of the team has only scored 31, and Ringgold has a team GAA around 6.50. In the meantime, the Trojans have dropped back-to-back contests by a combined 14-2 and have lost five of six overall. Derry did, however, win the first two meetings with Ringgold, taking the latest one Dec. 20 thanks to an eye-popping seven-goal outburst from Dillon Weaver. He has found the net in six straight and his 24 goals are fourth in the Open Class.
For complete coverage of the 2011 PIHL Outdoor Charity Series, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports on 937thefan.com next week!