By Matt Popchock
We’re coming up on the stretch run of the 2010-11 regular season, and the month of February usually gives us a definitive glimpse of who the best teams really are. They’re the teams that can come together and win against the best of the best and set themselves up for long playoff runs. As we get set to turn the calendar page, we might get a better read on who the real Penguins Cup favorites are this week, because a number of them are facing one another. So without further ado, here’s what’s coming to a rink near you:
CLASS AAA, SECTION 4
Penn-Trafford (4-7-1) @ Hempfield (5-7-1) (8:35) – Kirk Nevin Arena
There isn’t a lot to brag about in Section 4 this season, except for the fact that all its teams remain in playoff contention, and one of the most talented players in Class AAA will be on display in Greensburg as the last-place Warriors try to shake up the postseason picture. Daniel Maier’s 11-game point streak ended Monday, but he netted three of his team-leading 12 goals in the previous meeting, a 9-5 Penn-Trafford loss on Dec. 3. He’ll be skating opposite the equally explosive Kyle Rosendale, who registered four goals and five points in that game. Rosendale leads Hempfield and the rest of Class AAA with 31 goals and 48 points, coming off back-to-back hat tricks in two Spartan wins.
CLASS AA, NON-SECTION
West Allegheny (9-5-2) @ Peters Township (12-2-1) (6:30) – Ice-O-Plex at Southpointe
Peters put on an impressive display in the Outdoor Charity Series on Friday, but now it’s time to suck it up for a potential Penguins Cup preview against the team that beat them before their ongoing six-game win streak and 12-game unbeaten streak. Conventional wisdom says to expect another close-to-the-vest affair that showcases some of the premier goaltending talent in Class AA, just like the last meeting, a 2-1 win by West A on Nov. 1. West Allegheny’s Jason Kumpfmiller made 32 saves to preserve that victory and currently sits fourth among starters with a 2.12 GAA and third overall with a .928 save percentage. Time will tell if Rick Tingle chooses to counter with Woody Shell, who has won all eight starts, or Brian Baker, who also saw action in the outdoor game and leads all netminders with a 0.89 GAA and .955 save percentage.
OPEN CLASS, SECTION 2
Quigley (11-4-0) @ Harbor Creek (12-2-0) (8:00) – Mercyhurst College
Originally the feel-good story in Section 2 was PIHL newcomer Harbor Creek running the table through its first half schedule, but even though the Huskies have played lights-out hockey, the Spartans have stuck with them all the way and can pull into a virtual first-place tie with a win tonight. It’s no wonder Harbor Creek is the top defensive squad in the Open Class with blue-liners like Hunter Conboy, who has scored eight of his 13 goals, five of them on the power play, during his six-game goal streak. Meanwhile, Quigley forward Doug Simon is flying under the radar with his 14-game point streak. His 37 points trail Will Martin by just one for the team lead, and he has racked up five goals and ten points in four January contests.
CLASS AA, NON-SECTION
Latrobe (11-2-1) @ Bishop Canevin (11-3-0) (9:10) – Mount Lebanon Ice Arena
Two of the most well-rounded teams in Class AA will square off for playoff positioning Monday night, as the Wildcats must win to catch up with Peters Township for the number one overall spot, and Section 3 front-runner Canevin is right behind both of them. Latrobe’s Zach LaDuke had a goal in the team’s narrow 2-1 victory over the Crusaders Jan. 6, part of an ongoing 12-game goal streak that has seen LaDuke explode for eight tallies and 17 points in the month of January. Goaltender Shane Brudnok, one of the premier netminders in Class AA, has his work cut out against a team with offensive ability throughout its roster. Frank Vance leads the Crusaders with 13 goals and 35 points, and Matt Walsh has 33 points, with goals in five straight. Check back with Mr. High School Sports at 937thefan.com later for extensive coverage of this game.
CLASS AAA, SECTION 1
Canon-McMillan (11-3-1) @ Upper St. Clair (9-5-0) (6:40) – Ice Castle
The reigning Penguins Cup champs continue to lead Section 1, but with the way the third-place Panthers have been playing that five-point advantage no longer seems insurmountable. USC has won three straight to close the gap, including an impressive showing against Baldwin in the Outdoor Charity Series, and a game against a team like the Panthers that is also big and physical and also has a lot of offensive depth should prove a fascinating matchup. Canon-McMillan All-Star Brett Oldaker, the third-leading scorer in Class AAA with 39 points, has registered multiple points in seven consecutive games and gets help from Alexander Baskakov, an All-Star puck-moving defenseman who can shoot from anywhere. The cupboard is not bare at USC when it comes to All-Star talent either, as C.J. Murray is just ahead of Oldaker with 41 points and rides a six-game goal streak into this one. Justin Selep, who is just as imposing a fellow whenever he takes the ice, had a goal and two assists in the last meeting and has pumped in seven and six this month.
CLASS A, NON-SECTION
Serra Catholic (9-3-0) @ Westmont Hilltop (12-3-0) (7:30) – Cambria County War Memorial
This much-anticipated contest rescheduled from January is one of a series of huge tests the Eagles must pass in the final month of the regular season in order to maintain their point percentage lead over upstart South Fayette in Section 2. The Hilltoppers have won four of their last five to stay within four points of Section 4 leader Kittanning, and junior forward Corey Schafer has not only closed the gap on Mars’ Elliot Tisdale in the Class A scoring race with 26 goals and 50 points, he’s also wasted no time starting a new point streak after his 10-game run was halted by Tisdale and the Planets in the Outdoor Charity Series. Schafer notched a hat trick and six points last Monday, giving him seven goals and 15 points in January. Meanwhile, Serra hopes Jarrett Ruchka’s valiant effort in defeat against Kittanning is an omen; his 35 points put him among the top ten scorers in the classification, and he has multiple points in seven straight.
CLASS A, NON-SECTION
Mars (17-0-0) @ Kittanning (14-1-0) (8:15) – Belmont Complex
Speaking of much anticipated, does it get any bigger than the consensus No. 1 versus the consensus No. 2 in Class A? The two best teams in the classification, also two of the most dominant teams in the entire league–two teams that very likely will meet at Consol Energy Center–will finally meet for the first time this week. We all know how dominant the Planets’ defense has been, but lest we forget their offense is tops also with 140 goals, with the Wildcats right behind them at 128. Kittanning’s defense enters the contest ranked third in Class A, making the matchup between iron man Cameron Langham and fellow All-Star goalie Tyler Stepke an exciting one. Elliot Tisdale, who did not appear in Mars’ win over South Park Friday, leads the classification with 53 points and ended January on a 16-game point streak. Troy Schall, one of five Kittaning players in the top ten with 48 points, can fly, and he rides a 14-game point streak and six-game goal streak into this week. How much longer will the Wildcats wear the proverbial bridesmaid’s dress, and how much longer can the Planets prolong their PIHL winning streak, which inches closer to 30 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!