By Matt Popchock
Jersey retirement ceremonies are usually reserved for players who find success in the NHL, or the like, but Canon-McMillan wasted no time honoring a significant part of its history.
On Monday night, Brett Oldaker took a break from the Chicago Hitmen of the North American Hockey League (a Junior A Tier II circuit) to see his alma mater retire his No. 19 uniform.
Oldaker played on Canon-Mac’s varsity squad for all four years of high school, registering 55 goals and 69 assists for 124 points in PIHL regular season play. The former All-Star helped the Big Macs capture their first-ever Penguins Cup title in 2010, and his hat trick in last season’s Penguins Cup Semifinals propelled his team to another championship game appearance.
Canon-McMillan celebrated the jersey retirement by retiring Peters Township 3-2 in Class AAA Section 1 action at Ice-O-Plex in Southpointe. J.D. Oddi’s second goal of the game 3:18 into the third period proved to be the game-winner, and Ryan Christian made 21 saves.
At the beginning of the year I felt this game could be a preview of the Penguins Cup Final in Class AAA. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
The Big Macs still have a lot of depth, and head coach Yuri Krivokhija has had a major impact on the program since coming over from Russia. That win puts them at 9-0, which ties them with Penn-Trafford for the top spot in the classification, and their 53 goals are second behind the Warriors for the most in Class AAA.
Meanwhile, the Indians (5-1-1) are also loaded, and I would argue that even last season, they had enough talent to play up and still be as successful as they were in Class AA. A number of the forwards on that team–Taylor Cox, Alex Dagnal, and others–are downright fun to watch, and Brian Baker leads all Class AAA starters in GAA (1.65) and ranks third in save percentage (.919).
One storyline to watch for Canon-Mac is the status of winger Artem Prus. According to a source from that school, Prus has gone home to the Ukraine early for holiday break…but the funny thing is, according to this source, no one seems to be certain when he’ll come back to the States.
Defenseman Alex Baskakov is the better of the European imports on that team, but still, Prus skates well and works hard, and is usually on the ice with Baskakov, so if he doesn’t return anytime soon, that’s a tough loss for the Big Macs.
By the way, Brett’s younger brother, Blair Oldaker, has four goals and nine points through nine games. Three of those goals have come on special teams.
As the first half of the 2011-12 regular season winds down, defending Class AA state champion Bishop Canevin is demonstrating the same flair for the dramatic that got them both the Penguins and Pennsylvania Cup.
The Crusaders (7-2-0) saw an early 3-0 lead over Section 2 rival Chartiers Valley disappear, only to rebound for an amazing 8-7 victory at Mount Lebanon Ice Arena last Thursday. The Colts (7-1-0) witnessed something familiar to the rest of us: Randy Unger beating them for the game-winning goal in the final minute. Unger also contributed three assists.
A near-natural hat trick by Justin Sabilla, one of the league’s leading goal-getters, helped Char’ Valley rally for a 4-3 lead in the second period. Matt Walsh scored twice 24 seconds apart early in the third to complete his own hat trick and give Canevin a 6-4 advantage…only to see Sabilla add a fourth goal to make it 7-6 Colts before Peter Karney and Unger scored.
Bishop Canevin had to sweat out its ensuing game Monday night as well. The Crusaders got revenge on Pine-Richland (3-4-0) for an early-season upset with a 2-1 win in overtime at Ice Connection. Defenseman Matt Bilksi’s goal 1:29 into sudden-death OT enabled the Crusaders to keep pace with Chartiers Valley in the section.
Both teams are home on Thursday, with Canevin hosting Section 3 leader Gateway in the early game at Mount Lebanon Ice Arena at 7:00, and Char’ Valley taking on West Allegheny, the Section 1 front-runner, in the nightcap shortly after 9:00.
Sabilla pumped in an absurd 17 goals in his first six games to lead his classification in that category…and he’s already torched West A for five, back on Nov. 10 at Airport Ice Arena in an 8-2 laugher.
There’s another big game coming up Thursday night, this time in Class A. Serra Catholic hosts Quaker Valley shortly before 9:00 at the Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon.
The Eagles are a fascinating team, because despite depth problems, they have a lot of talented, team-oriented players who have kept one of the proudest programs in the league competitive.
Serra could challenge for a Penguins Cup, especially considering Class A, once again, is watered down, but it still has a lot to prove. Mars routed them 8-4 at BladeRunners Warrendale Tuesday night (the second four-goal victory over Serra by the Planets this season), leaving the Eagles without a signature win against an elite team.
Quaker Valley might be the most improved team in Class A, or at least the team ready to make the biggest leap. QV has also lost to Mars, but the Quakers really gave the Planets a tough time early in the season, and their team has a lot of versatility too, as well as a lot of size.
Ryan Dickson has flown under the radar for Quaker Valley, putting himself among the top ten in Class A with 16 points (6 G + 10 A) in his first six games. Be sure to also keep an eye on Garner Kraemer of Serra Catholic. He moves the puck as well as he shoots it, and he entered the week fifth in Class A with 17 points (9 G + 8 A).
I’ll have more on this game later this week…
If there is a surprise team in Class A, however, it is, without question, Freeport.
Funny I mentioned Quaker Valley, because that’s the team the Yellowjackets stunned in 2007 for their only Penguins Cup. After that the program suffered from heavy graduation losses and didn’t really recover until now. But they’ve started 4-2-1 and are just two points behind Westmont Hilltop in Section 3.
Head coach Dave Hepler, who presided over that championship team, is still behind the bench. The Hepler family has been key to whatever success the Jackets have enjoyed, and this time it’s Cole Hepler wearing the cape. The sophomore leads Freeport with nine goals and 16 points, and he carried a six-game goal streak into this week.
Freeport gets its first crack at first place Thursday at 8:15 when it meets the Hilltoppers at Kittanning’s Belmont Complex. So despite that gap between the haves and have-nots, Thursday might be an uncommon instance of Class A having the two most exciting games of the night league-wide.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)