“Mr. High School Sports” – PIHL Preview
By Matt Popchock
The puck is about to drop on round two of the 2011 PIHL Charity Series, and as we take a brief breather from cheering on the Steelers and Penguins, Mr. High School Sports says it’s time to get excited about high school hockey again. Friday night in the South Hills a pair of games will be played honoring a hero known throughout Pittsburgh and a martyr known throughout the nation whose respective legacies live on in the name of worthwhile causes. Taking the ice, most appropriately, to raise money for those causes will be four programs with tremendous on-ice legacies. So without further ado, here’s what’s coming to a rink near you:
CLASS AA, SECTION 1
Peters Township (11-2-1) vs. Pine-Richland (6-8-0) @ South Park Ice Rink – 6:30
While you wait for two of the NFL’s greatest dynasties to tee it up in Dallas, why not make the drive down Route 88 and watch two of the PIHL’s most recent dynasties drop the puck on a fascinating contest for a great cause? Proceeds from game three of the Outdoor Charity Series, which features two teams that have combined for seven Penguins Cups since the turn of the century, will benefit the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure. The Indians come in as the consensus number one in Class AA, trying to unseat Latrobe for the top seed and extend a five-game winning streak, not to mention an 11-game unbeaten run of which goaltending has been the catalyst. Brian Baker, who has posted shutouts in two of his last three appearances, has played lights-out with a 0.90 GAA and .955 save percentage that lead the classification. The leading scorer on Class AA’s number one offense, Cole Snyder broke a five-game drought with a goal Monday and has multiple points in 10 of 14 games this season. Rams defenseman Scott McAliney, one of the top blue-liners in Class AA, who has 19 points and points in seven of his last eight, will likely be shadowing him. Alas, P-R must fight scoring balance with some firepower of its own, and Julian Rizza, its leading scorer has the hot hand with 11 points in his last four games and 32 overall.
CLASS AAA, SECTION 1
Baldwin (1-11-0) vs. Upper St. Clair (8-5-0) @ South Park Ice Rink – 8:30
The glory days of the Highlanders, one of the seminal high school programs in western PA, are a distant memory, whereas the Panthers are inching closer to recapturing theirs after winning three of their last four, including a beat-down of arch-rival Mount Lebanon. USC has moved within six points of Bethel Park for second place in Section 1, with two games in hand entering Friday, and a victory over Baldwin on the outdoor surface would strengthen its grip on the number five spot in the overall standings. At this point, Baldwin is playing for pride, so it’s awfully fitting its team captain is defenseman Brian Proud, who has five assists this year. Both teams, in fact, will play for pride, as ticket sales to the Paul Sciullo Memorial Scholarship Fund, which was established by the PIHL after the 2009 Pittsburgh Police killings. All-Star Neil Isler has played well for the Highlanders, netting a late goal in last weekend’s All-Star Event, and scoring five points his last four games. He scored the lone goal in the Panthers’ 13-1 drubbing of Baldwin in December, a game which saw fellow All-Star C.J. Murray rack up six assists and seven points. Murray currently sits fourth in Class AAA with 35 points, and has six of his 18 goals amdist an ongoing four-game goal streak. Another one to watch is sophomore Luke Stork, who notched a hat trick in that December meeting.
(Click here–and check the bottom of your screen–for a special report on how the team captains feel about participating in this year’s event, thanks to my friends at the PIHL Network and Rubino Productions.)
Meanwhile, here’s a quick glance at a couple of big indoor games on the horizon…
CLASS AAA, NON-SECTION
Mount Lebanon (4-8-1) @ Shaler (6-6-2) (8:30) – BladeRunners Ice Complex, Harmarville
The Titans have righted the ship since their pre-holiday slump, and they’re looking to avoid slipping further in the playoff picture, while the Blue Devils are still trying to climb into it. Mount Lebanon All-Star forward Trevor Nelson has racked up 13 of his 17 points in his last five games. Dalton Shiring is starting to make his presence felt after missing much of Shaler’s season with five goals and five assists in his last three outings.
CLASS AA, NON-SECTION
Chartiers Valley (11-4-0) @ Gateway (2-10-1) (7:35) – Center Ice
Although the Colts, like Class AAA Fox Chapel, remain the talk of the league, they must first find a way to quiet one of the most prolific offenses in Class AA before they can think about upending Bishop Canevin in Section 3. The Gators have a great finisher in Troy McAteer, who leads young Gateway with 18 goals, though he has only managed a pair in his last six games after starting the year on a tear. Furthermore, Gateway’s defensive weaknesses have been exposed, and Post-Gazette No. 4 Char’ Valley hopes a big night from November Player of the Month Justin Sabilla, who leads Class AA with 26 goals and 42 points, is enough to carry them.
OPEN CLASS, SECTION 4
Greensburg-Salem (9-5-0) @ Kiski Area (10-4-0) (8:30)
It appears Delmont, like South Park, is a great place to be for exciting scholastic hockey in the area over the next few days, as first place in this section will be settled–for the time being–along Route 22. The Lions are looking to extend their winning streak to four, while ending a five-game spurt by the Cavaliers, who already outlasted Salem in a home-and-home sandwiched around the 2010-11 holiday break. Kiski freshman Kevin Kunkle seems to be a rising star, and he notched two goals and four assists in those meetings, while Greensburg-Salem’s Shawn Sperlik, who rides a nine-game point streak into next week, was held to two goals and one helper in the previous two.
CLASS A, NON-SECTION
Serra Catholic (9-3-0) @ Quaker Valley (10-5-0) (8:20) – Airport Ice Arena
When the Post-Gazette No. 5 Quakers went on their recent run of dominance in Class A, the team that most often had their number, playoffs not withstanding, were the Eagles…and I wouldn’t want to be in QV’s skates when an angry, motivated Serra squad takes the ice after a tough loss to Kittanning. The key for Serra Catholic will be to stay out of the box, as the Quakers possess one of the most dangerous power plays in the league with 28 tallies–eight of them belonging to scoring leader Jason Lottes, who has three in his last four. The Post-Gazette’s No. 3 squad edged them in the last meeting with a goal and assist from scoring machine Jarrett Ruchka, who has 33 points in just nine games.
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!