By Matt Popchock
Whereas the high school hockey postseason began with a flourish on Monday, the second night of Penguins Cup Playoff action throughout western Pennsylvania came and went much more inconspicuously. The number of games was cut in half, and all three favorites rolled to fairly convincing victories. Now, the top dogs in all three classifications get their turn, and with the puck dropping on the 2011 Penguins Cup Quarterfinals tonight, this is their first opportunity to prove they belong. Not to mention, it’s their only opportunity to earn the right to play on Pittsburgh’s newest and most prestigious sheet of ice.
Who will turn heads, if anyone, and which teams will be skating at CONSOL Energy Center for the penultimate round of their respective tournaments? Mr. High School Sports will try to answer those questions now, so without further ado, here are his picks for the Quarterfinal games coming to a rink near you:
CLASS A QUARTERFINALS:
#1 Kittanning (20-1-0) vs. #8 Central Valley (8-13-1) (7:15 p.m.) – Belmont Complex
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Troy Schall, Kittanning (30 G, 32 A; 62 pts. – 3rd in Class A); Tyler Kocis, Central Valley (2 G, 3 A in First Round win over Freeport)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: There are a lot of ways the Wildcats can hurt you, from Schall, who can absolutely fly, to Player-of-the-Month Jordan Ford, to offensive defenseman Tyler Crissman, all of whom finished among the top ten in scoring in Class A. Kocis will once again be the focal point of the Warriors’ offense, and though he got help from Kevin Guzak, who did a fine job finishing Freeport in the First Round, they don’t have enough firepower together to match what Kittanning brings.
#2 Mars (20-1-0) vs. #7 South Fayette (12-8-2) (8:30) – BladeRunners Ice Complex, Warrendale
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Eliot Tisdale, Mars (33 G, 35 A; 68 pts. – 1st in Class A); Nick Schultz, South Fayette (2 G, 2 A in First Round win over Sewickley Academy)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: Goaltending could add a different dimension to this game than the previous meetings between these two schools, with Nicholas Blocher coming off a nice performance in the First Round and Michael Coyne, who has been playing well in defeat, also available for the Lions. But the Planets have already routed South Fayette twice behind great netminding of their own from All-Star Tyler Stepke, and you can bet Tisdale, who leads a deeper offense, will hook up with talented sniper Nick Blaney for some big plays.
#3 Serra Catholic (16-4-1) vs. #6 Hampton (15-6-0) (8:15) – Rostraver Ice Garden
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tyler Speis, Serra Catholic (25 G, 17 A; 42 pts. – G in last meeting); Luke Leya, Hampton (21 G, 15 A; 36 pts. – 0 pts. in last meeting)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: You can never count out the Eagles because of their illustrious history, but this is one of the toughest Quarterfinal matchups they could possibly have drawn, as the Talbots have won a section title under a new coaching staff, own a signature win over Kittanning, and boast one of the top goalies in Class A, Sam Wilson. Last time they met Garrett Hudson, also near the top of the heap in GAA and save percentage, outclassed him, and getting back defenseman Jay Leppo will help Serra against this diverse offense.
WINNER: SERRA CATHOLIC.
CLASS AA QUARTERFINALS:
#1 Peters Twp. (17-2-1) vs. #8 Pine-Richland (10-10-1) (8:50) – Ice-O-Plex at Southpointe
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Taylor Cox, Peters Twp. (25 G, 19 A; 44 pts. – SHG, A in last meeting); Julian Rizza, Pine-Richland (4 G in First Round win over Erie Cathedral Prep)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: The Indians easily skated past the Rams in the PIHL Outdoor Charity Series, though we should have known that two of the league’s most successful programs from the previous decade were destined to meet again on a much grander stage. Pine-Richland really counts on Rizza, one of the league’s best players in the First Round, to penetrate the offensive zone and create, but the Indians play some of the most responsible team defense you’ll see, and the scary thing is, you never know who’s going to be their offensive hero.
WINNER: PETERS TWP.
#2 Bishop Canevin (16-4-0) vs. #7 Elizabeth Forward (11-9-1) (7:10) – Mount Lebanon Ice Arena
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Frank Vance, Bishop Canevin (22 G, 29 A; 51 pts. – 5th in Class AA); Justin Delmaster, Elizabeth Forward (2 G, 2 A in First Round win over Moon)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: The Warriors, especially Delmaster, should be skating confidently into the Quarterfinals knowing that they survived a tough section and subsequently survived a Moon team that once played them tough for the right to play a Canevin squad they’ve beaten before. Having said that, the Crusaders handled EF in the rematch, and Delmaster won’t have as much ice to work with against this defense, which supports goalie Zack Daley very well, and up front, the Crusaders have a dangerous sharpshooter in Matt Walsh to accompany Vance, and a hard-working freshman in Randy Unger.
WINNER: BISHOP CANEVIN.
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS:
#3 Latrobe (15-4-1) vs. #6 West Allegheny (12-6-2) (6:30) – Kirk Nevin Arena
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Zach LaDuke, Latrobe (36 G, 30 A; 66 pts.; 1st in Class AA); Jon Levitt, West Allegheny (16 G, 7 A; 23 pts. – 0 pts. in last meeting)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: A rematch of last year’s Class AA Penguins Cup Final should be most fascinating, especially between two defensively responsible teams with great goaltending who could potentially stage a tight-checking, low-scoring affair, but this one will probably have a different look than last year’s track meet at the Igloo. The Indians’ system has changed, and they no longer appear to have the horses to be what they were in that title game, while the Wildcats still have their scoring depth, and an up-and-comer in Josh Singley who could make an impact in this year’s playoffs.
#4 Chartiers Valley (15-5-0) vs. #5 Montour (12-6-2) (9:10) – Mount Lebanon Ice Arena
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Justin Sabilla, Chartiers Valley (34 G, 29 A; 63 pts. – 2nd in Class AA); Zach Milnarcik, Montour (22 G, 30 A; 52 pts. – 4th in Class AA)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: One of the most improved teams in the league has been the Colts, who have already vanquished a number of top-tier squads, including Montour, and are definitely playing their best hockey at the right time. Matt Penz has been solid between the pipes and should keep the Spartans in this game, but Milnarcik will need more help, because Noah Stevenson might be one of the best goalies that no one talks about, and even with Sabilla in your sights, you also have to look for Bob Tracy, a deft-skating forward, to capitalize off turnovers and be a factor on offense as well.
WINNER: CHARTIERS VALLEY.
CLASS AAA QUARTERFINALS:
#1 Fox Chapel (18-2-0) vs. #11 Norwin (9-11-1) (7:30) – Valley Sports Complex
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Dan Humes, Fox Chapel (27 G, 29 A; 56 pts. – 3rd in Class AAA); Neil Stewart, Norwin (2 G, A in First Round win over State College)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: One of the feel-good stories of the 2010-11 PIHL season reaches a critical juncture, because sometimes teams that aren’t used to handling the kind of success that Fox Chapel has enjoyed can buckle under the pressure of the playoffs, and they have to open with the Knights, who played them tough the first time around and just pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament. But as long as the Foxes can contain Stewart, they’ll be in good shape with Humes and partner-in-crime Jake Friedland generating offense from the momentum of their defense.
WINNER: FOX CHAPEL.
#2 Canon-McMillan (15-4-1) vs. #9 Shaler (11-8-2) (6:50) – Ice-O-Plex at Southpointe
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Brett Oldaker, Canon-McMillan (20 G, 34 A; 54 pts. – 4th in Class AAA); Jacob Hetz, Shaler (3 G, A in First Round win over McDowell)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: After the way last season ended for Shaler, this will be the most motivated team Canon-Mac will see all year, and this one definitely has upset potential, given Shaler’s size and strong play as of late. But if brothers Jacob and Josh Hetz are off their game, it could be another long night for the Titans against the Penguins Cup champs, who have one of the best puck-moving defensemen in Alexander Baskakov and have played just as well on the back end as they have during last year’s remarkable run. WINNER:
#3 Bethel Park (14-4-2) vs. #7 Pgh. Central Catholic (11-7-3) (8:00) – BladeRunners Ice Complex, Bethel Park
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Dan Kucerovy, Bethel Park (23 G, 18 A; 41 pts. – 6th in Class AAA); Eric Smith, Pgh. Central Catholic (hat trick in First Round win over Hempfield)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: We saw in the First Round how well-coached the Vikings are under local legend Bob Kennedy, as they staged a most impressive last-minute comeback to advance, but another veteran head coach, Jim McVay, has his Black Hawks playing some of the best hockey in the league since Christmastime. Central needs to be smart with the puck, get more good special teams play, and get a great performance from goaltender and Player-of-the-Month Brandon Savka, because few teams can cycle the puck like Kucerovy, Zach Volzer, and Michael Shipley, and even fewer can defend like they can.
WINNER: BETHEL PARK.
#4 Upper St. Clair (13-6-1) vs. #5 North Allegheny (13-6-2) (6:00) – Ice Castle
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C.J. Murray, Upper St. Clair (30 G, 29 A; 59 pts. – 2nd in Class AAA); Joseph Griffin, North Allegheny (2 G in First Round win over Plum)
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: As it has all year long, NA cleaned up its own zone nicely in rolling to a First Round victory over the Mustangs, but against a good puck-moving team like USC that has All-Stars in Murray and Justin Selep to go with other dangerous scorers, the Tigers might be in a bit over their heads. If they get good goaltending and can frustrate the Panthers into taking penalties, they definitely have a shot, but the Panthers’ size can create problems at both ends, and NA doesn’t have as many fully-developed finishers as it has in years past.
WINNER: UPPER ST. CLAIR.
So in summary, Mr. High School Sports likes this Quarterfinal round to be pretty chalk, but once we get to the Consol Center, he suspects a few eyebrows will be raised. In the meantime, if you’re looking for potential upsets Wednesday night, he’s got his eye on Serra Catholic-Hampton in Class A, Chartiers Valley-Montour in Class AA, and Shaler-Canon-McMillan in Class AAA.
For continuing coverage of the Penguins Cup Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports later this week, and also check out the Pittsburgh Youth Hockey Network for all the scores and brackets!