By Matt Popchock
Lost in the excitement of upcoming playoff basketball is the fact that we’re just a few short weeks away from playoff hockey. The 2010-11 high school hockey regular season is winding down, and these are critical times for a number of the 60-plus member schools of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, many of whom have just a couple games left before the games that matter most get underway.
Section titles and playoff positioning are still at stake throughout the PIHL as Mr. High School Sports gets ready to head to the Mon Valley for a big showdown in Class A, even as a traditional South Hills powerhouse tries to avoid an ultra-rare postseason miss. So without further ado, here’s what’s coming to a rink near you:
CLASS AAA, SECTION 1:
Mount Lebanon (6-11-1) @ Upper St. Clair (10-6-0) (6:40) – Ice Castle
It isn’t every year we see the Blue Devils in this position, but the perennial South Hills powerhouse is struggling to leapfrog Norwin for the 12th and final playoff spot in Class AAA. Lebo has two games left, including Thursday night, to do so, while also holding off Plum, which is one point back with three games left. USC, meanwhile, has won four of its last five, including a victory over their arch-rivals Jan. 24, and is trying in vain to catch North Allegheny for the last available first-round bye. All-Star sophomore Trevor Nelson had eight points amidst a five-game point streak that ended with Mount Lebanon’s shutout loss to Canon-McMillan on Valentine’s Day. Another All-Star, senior forward C.J. Murray, is riding an eight-game goal streak for the Panthers and leads one of the most explosive offenses in the league.
CLASS AA, NON-SECTION:
Moon (7-10-0) @ Elizabeth Forward (9-7-1) (7:15) – Rostraver Ice Garden
The Tigers have hit the skids, losing three straight and four of five, and need to get out of their rut in order to avoid conceding the tenth and final playoff spot in Class AA to Thomas Jefferson, another team struggling as of late. This is a pivotal contest for EF as well, which currently holds down the No. 7 spot overall, and the Warriors still have a chance to improve their positioning and cap off an impressive bounce-back year after a rough ’09-’10 campaign. Moon really leans on All-Star Nigel Crighton, who is just a couple points out of the Class AA scoring lead with 30 goals and 53 points, and he has 11 goals in his last four outings, but his supporting cast needs to start stepping up. Justin Delmaster, another one of the Class AA top ten, has been a huge part of Elizabeth Forward’s turnaround, and he has 11 of his 46 points in his last four games.
CLASS A, SECTION 3:
South Fayette (11-6-2) @ Serra Catholic (12-4-1) (9:20) – Rostraver Ice Garden
One of the most improved teams in the PIHL, the postseason-bound Lions have two games left to win the section crown by surpassing the Eagles, a team that has won them habitually. Serra has strung together three wins in a row, including a dramatic overtime victory over South Fayette last week, a game in which the Lions fought admirably despite chasing the Eagles much of the night. The Section 3 front-runners still have four games, including tonight, to build upon their No. 5 spot in the Penguins Cup Playoff chase, while South Fayette sits at No. 7 and after tonight has just one more game in which to try and earn home-ice advantage in the first round. Jay Leppo scored a hat trick, but Tyler Speis was the real hero for the Eagles last time around, as his second goal was the game-winner, and Speis leads them with 21 goals and 35 points. Nick Shultz continues to be a go-to guy for the Lions with eight tallies and 11 points in his last four games, and he’ll get one last shot at cracking Garrett Hudson, who sits third among starters with a 2.16 GAA. Check back with Mr. High School Sports at 937thefan.com later for extensive coverage of this game.
OPEN CLASS, SECTION 2:
Harbor Creek (15-2-0) @ Quigley (13-5-0) (8:45) – Beaver County Ice Arena
If the Huskies win again over the resurgent Spartans, they will capture the Section 2 title, though both these schools have authored eyebrow-raising stories this year. Harbor Creek, which currently sits at No. 2 in the Nailers Cup Playoff chase, should be a confident bunch after winning four straight and handling Quigley once, but the Spartans, that loss not withstanding, continue channeling the magic of their 2007 Nailers Cup championship squad. They are one of three teams fighting for the number three spot with just two games to go. Will Martin scored one of the Quigley’s two goals in that previous loss to the Huskies, and he has a goal in six of the games during his ongoing seven-game point streak, while junior forward Zak Tomblin is starting to make a name for himself with five goals and ten points in his last four outings, including a pair of goals in Harbor Creek’s previous 8-2 triumph.
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!