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“Mr. High School Sports” – Pennsylvania Cup Finals Preview

Mars after winning Penguins Cup

The Mars Planets, after winning their third straight Penguins Cup, will look to earn back-to-back Pennsylvania Cups Saturday in West Chester. (Photo credit: Pittsburgh Youth Hockey Network)

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By Matt Popchock

For the three Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey gold medalists who have already represented the “City of Bridges” so well, there’s one more bridge to cross.  It will carry them to the Ice Line Quad Rinks in West Chester, PA, and each of them hopes it will end with a state title.

The puck drops on the 36th annual Pennsylvania Cup Finals Saturday in the greater Philadelphia suburbs, as three Penguins Cup champions take on three Flyers Cup champions for PA high school hockey supremacy.  For two years, the East had the upper hand, winning two out of three, but last year Mars joined three-time winner Latrobe as the other western PA victor, as Canon-McMillan bowed to Cardinal O’Hara in double overtime.

Mars is the only returning champion from our neck of the woods, while three new Flyers Cup winners will take their shots at state gold Saturday.  The West has not swept this event since 2006, and the East has not done so since 2004.  What does the future hold for the final day of the 2010-11 high school hockey season?  Mr. High School Sports takes a glimpse at that future…

CLASS A:

Mars (23-1-0) vs. Springfield (17-5-3) – Saturday, 11:00 AM

STATE TITLES (LAST TIME WON):

Mars – 1 (2010)

Springfield – 0 (N/A)

HOW THEY GOT HERE:

Mars, the Section 1 champion and No. 2 seed in the Class A Penguins Cup Playoffs, defeated South Fayette 5-0 in the Quarterfinals, defeated Westmont Hilltop 4-1 in the Semifinals, then defeated Hampton 5-0 in the Finals for its third straight title.  Springfield, the Central Division champion of the Inter-County Scholastic Hockey League (ICSHL), lost twice in the league playoffs and entered the Class A Flyers Cup Playoffs as the No. 4 seed.  The Cougars defeated Sun Valley 2-1 in the First Round, defeated West Chester Henderson 3-2 in the Quarterfinals, defeated Garnet Valley 5-2 in the Semifinals, then defeated Unionville 3-2 in overtime to capture their second Flyers Cup title and first since 2001.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Elliot Tisdale, Mars (GW G in Penguins Cup Final, won Class A scoring title); Billy McGugan, Springdale (GW G in Flyers Cup Final, won tournament MVP honors)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: If there’s one thing the Cougars have shown us during the playoffs, it’s mettle.  Their journey through the Flyers Cup Playoffs is somewhat reminiscent of the way Hampton turned heads during the Penguins Cup Playoffs.  But as Class A squads go, the Planets are probably the most well-oiled machine in the state, and they haven’t fallen asleep at the controls.  As long as their forecheck remains relentless, and Tyler Stepke continues to look like one of the premier high school goalies in PA, Mars will wear the crown again.

Bishop Canevin

(Photo credit: Pittsburgh Youth Hockey Network)

CLASS AA:

Bishop Canevin (19-4-0) vs. Council Rock South (24-4-1) – Saturday, 1:30 PM

STATE TITLES (LAST TIME WON):

Bishop Canevin – 3 (1989)

Council Rock South – 0 (N/A)

HOW THEY GOT HERE:

Bishop Canevin, the Section 3 champion and No. 2 seed in the Class AA Penguins Cup Playoffs, defeated Elizabeth Forward 8-3 in the Quarterfinals, defeated Latrobe 3-2 in overtime in the Semifinals, then defeated Peters Township 5-2 in the Finals to win its sixth Penguins Cup all-time and first since 1993.  Council Rock South, the National Division champions of the Suburban High School Hockey League (SHSHL), entered the Class AA Flyers Cup Playoffs as the No. 1 seed.  The Golden Hawks defeated Perkiomen Valley 3-2 in the First Round, defeated North Penn 5-3 in the Second Round, defeated Cherokee (NJ) 3-1 in the Semifinals, then defeated Central Bucks East 5-2 in the Finals to earn their second title in three seasons.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Matt Walsh, Bishop Canevin (PPG, 2 A in Penguins Cup Final; 5 G, 2 A led Class AA playoff scorers); Steve Jastrow, Council Rock South (31 saves in Flyers Cup Final, won tournament MVP honors)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: The Hawks aren’t going to get stage fright.  After all, they nearly upset Latrobe in the Pennsylvania Cup Final two years ago, and besides, they have the scoring depth even without a great finisher like Patrick Grilli having to do a lot in the playoffs, not to mention team defense that matches up well with Canevin’s balanced offense.  The real question is, have the Crusaders peaked, or will they continue playing like a team that wants it more?  It’ll be interesting to see if Walsh and Frank Vance continue to jell if linemate Randy Unger’s shoulder isn’t healthy enough, but this team still has the heart and the ability to be a champion.  No guarantees, except that this will be a tight one.

Upper St. Clair

(Photo credit: Pittsburgh Youth Hockey Network)

CLASS AAA:

Upper St. Clair (16-6-1) vs. LaSalle (24-4-1) – Saturday, 4:00 PM

STATE TITLES (LAST TIME WON):

Upper St. Clair – 2 (1987)

LaSalle – 3 (2009)

HOW THEY GOT HERE:

Upper St. Clair, the third-place team in Section 1 and No. 4 seed in the Class AAA Penguins Cup Playoffs, defeated North Allegheny 4-2 in the Quarterfinals, defeated Fox Chapel 2-0 in the Semifinals, then defeated Canon-McMillan 4-3 in overtime in the Finals to win its fifth Penguins Cup and first since 1990.  LaSalle, the top team in the Philadelphia Catholic Division of the ICSHL, entered the Class AAA Flyers Cup Playoffs as the No. 1 seed.  The Explorers defeated St. Joseph’s 5-0 in the Quarterfinals, defeated Father Judge 3-2 in the Semifinals, then defeated Malvern Prep 3-2 in overtime in the Finals for their fifth Flyers Cup, and third title in four seasons.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Justin Selep, Upper St. Clair (Game-tying PPG, A in Penguins Cup Final; 3 G, A in Penguins Cup Playoffs); Nick Master, LaSalle (GW G in Flyers Cup Final; 4 G, 8 A in 15 regular season games)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: Although they don’t have the incredible firepower they did when they blasted previously unbeaten Pine-Richland in 2008, the Explorers still have a lot of guys who can hurt you on any given night or day.  In addition to Master’s heroics, C.J. Dunton has provided great senior leadership.  But the real x-factor in this game is whether freshman goalie Nick DeSimone can stay hot, or if his counterpart, Mike Ambrose, can deliver after a pedestrian outing against Canon-Mac.  DeSimone may accomplish Saturday more than most 14-year-olds accomplish in an entire year.  This is probably the toughest matchup for any of the Penguins Cup champs, though the Panthers’ attention to detail on defense could not be improving at a better time.  If that keeps up, and if Murray and Selep can get going, USC definitely has a shot.

(For live radio coverage of all the games, be sure to visit my friends at the MSA Sports Network.  Tune into the PIHL Network at pihlweb.com next week for further coverage.)

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)