By Matt Popchock
Although Mother Nature made the unlikely decision to take the “winter” out of “Winter Classic” this particular weekend, she could not stop the 2012 UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Outdoor Charity Series from getting off to a great start.
One of the hottest teams in the league, Quaker Valley (9-1-0) handed Westmont Hilltop (6-2-2) its second consecutive loss in this event with a pair of late power play goals in a 4-2 win, the Quakers’ eighth in a row.
The teams faced off against each other at South Park Ice Rink Friday night to raise money for the UPMC Hillman Center for Brain Cancer Research. As was the case last season, the Hilltoppers dedicated the game to the memory of Dave “Ziggy” Ziegler, a pro shop owner who served the Johnstown and Pittsburgh hockey communities until losing his battle with brain cancer in August 2010.
According to PIHL Commissioner Ed Sam, revenue amounts from last Friday’s and this Friday’s OCS games won’t be determined and/or announced until some time after the All-Star break.
Temperatures in the mid-fifties pushed back the start of Friday’s games by nearly an hour while crews worked overtime to cut and condition the ice, but Quaker Valley still protected its home-sleet advantage with its typically fast-paced attack and superior special teams play.
Westmont Hilltop’s PK had done its duty, killing off a pair of two-man advantages by Quaker Valley, until Ryan Dickson forced a rebound past Adam Ayre for his team-best 14th goal of the season two minutes into the third period to tie the game.
Five minutes later, defenseman and captain Zak Kindya, who assisted on goals by Noah McQuillan and Zach Nedrewski, was whistled for tripping, which cost the Hilltoppers just as dearly. Fellow blue-liner Jake Pilewicz buried a shot from center point for his second goal of the night and eighth of the season with 6:42 left in regulation.
“This is a good start for the second half of our season. I don’t think we’ve been tested a lot lately, but we went up against a good team here, and we came up with a big win. It was a lot of fun,” Pilewicz said.
A Dickson empty-netter punctuated the win for Quaker Valley, which continues to share the Class A lead in points with Mars. The Planets (9-0-0), ironically, opened up the second half of their regular campaign with a 6-1 victory at South Park that night, and the Quakers have the second-longest active winning streak in that classification behind that of the Planets.
The state champs are the only team to defeat Quaker Valley in PIHL play this season, though they won’t see each other again until a Feb. 21 meeting at BladeRunners Warrendale, and then, quite possibly, the Penguins Cup Finals at CONSOL Energy Center.
In Class AAA, Mount Lebanon, after an uncharacteristically down year, looks very eager to skate inside the House That Mario Built for the first time since it opened, and the Blue Devils (9-3-1) rebounded from a tough loss to Section 2 leader North Allegheny by skating to an easy 5-1 win over Pittsburgh Central Catholic (5-6-0) in Friday’s outdoor finale.
Those teams played for the Paul Sciullo Memorial Scholarship Fund. Sciullo was one of the officers who lost his life in the April 2009 Pittsburgh Police killings, and he also captained Central Catholic’s varsity team in the early Nineties.
Mount Lebanon sophomore Thomas Horn, who delivered his second straight two-goal performance for a team-leading 11 on the season, had as much fun raising those funds as Pilewicz did. His short-handed goal just 2:30 into the game set the tone for the Blue Devils.
“It’s a lot fun, and it’s a little crazy with all those fans up against the glass,” said Horn, whose teammates appeared undaunted by the subpar ice conditions. “We wanted to get a few early, then just get the puck deep and play good defense.”
Mount Lebanon rounds out its January PIHL schedule with three more games on the road: Monday at Fox Chapel (Valley Sports Complex), Jan. 24 at Seneca Valley (BladeRunners Warrendale), and Jan. 26 at Penn-Trafford (Center Ice). In fact, when Lebo gets a second shot at the Tigers Feb. 2 at Mount Lebanon Ice Arena, it will have been nearly two months since the Blue Devils played in their own rink.
Will the Blue Devils make their move in Section 2, or can North Allegheny (8-2-1) hang onto that lead? Right now, the pressure seems to be on the latter.
N.A. has won seven in a row, the second-longest winning streak in the classification, and though it has games in hand, its January schedule is a bit tougher. The Tigers also have three road games this month, including Friday’s Outdoor Charity Series matchup with Seneca Valley. Seneca pulled a quasi-upset by tying N.A. in an outdoor game last year, so that one isn’t a gimmie; plus, the Tigers have to deal with Peters Township and Canon-McMillan this month.
In addition, North Allegheny hosts Bethel Park in an interesting non-section game Tuesday night at BladeRunners Warrendale at 6:30. The Black Hawks, in recent years, have been notorious for opening slow and ending strong. They limped to a 3-7 start, but have since opened the second half of their season with a finals berth in the PA Scholastic Showcase, a 2-2 tie against surprising Norwin, and a resounding statement–a 5-1 rout of Peters–on home ice last Thursday keyed by two goals and three helpers from Danny Yost.
The Hawks have been getting a lot of help from their underclassmen, and not just Yost. Sophomore Derek Lesnak leads Bethel Park with 15 points (7 G + 8 A) and carries a five-game point streak into Tuesday.
So it looks like the easiest game on the horizon for North Allegheny is its own meeting with Fox Chapel at the Valley Sports Complex Jan. 23, which precedes the Mount Lebanon rematch. Still, a major storyline in that one will be the goaltending duel between the Tigers’ Matt Goda and the Foxes’ Scott Ellis, both of whom have played particularly well as of late.
Goda, who is perfect in his last seven starts, ranks second in Class AAA in wins and lowered his GAA to 2.71 with 23 saves in that victory over Mount Lebanon.
Meanwhile, you can re-read the “Mr. High School Sports” blog Friday for continuing coverage of the 2012 UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Outdoor Charity Series. North Hills will meet Moon in AA-Sec. 1 action at North Park Ice Rink to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and battle for the final playoff berths in Class AA, as the Indians presently look in from the outside. The Tigers and Raiders will give the proceeds from their AAA-Sec. 2 game to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
But if you want to see a compelling contest before Friday, look no further than the Quakers’ next one, a trip to the storied Belmont Complex Thursday night to take on two-time Penguins Cup Semifinalist Kittanning at 6:15.
The last meeting between these teams, the only one of the previous season, saw Kittanning defeat Quaker Valley 4-2 Feb. 7, 2011 at Airport Ice Arena. Kittanning senior forward Heinz Koster, who scored a short-handed goal in that game, owns a comfortable lead in the Class A scoring race. Koster, by the way, has two of his team’s four short-handed tallies thus far.
QV captain Kevin Kenny, who enters the week with 13 goals and 26 points, scored both Quaker goals that night, and he too is among the top ten point-getters in the classification. Kenny not only had a goal in seven straight entering the Outdoor Charity Series, but also had multiple points in each of those games. Both streaks ended Friday (he was, at one point, credited with Quaker Valley’s first goal, which later went back to Pilewicz), even though he generated a number of nice chances, so he’ll be anxious to break through Thursday night.
Stephen Catanese of The Valley News-Dispatch has more on this big Class A showdown.
Check out our “PIHL Rink Report” later this week for more on that game, and more on the section races in Class AAA.
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