By Matt Popchock
What’s the difference between your high school hockey team and an amateur team? The skill level.
What’s the difference between the Mars Planets and the rest of PIHL Class A?
Once again, the skill level.
Even three Penguins Cups, two Pennsylvania Cups, and multiple graduating classes later, Mars (9-0-0) looks like the team to beat state-wide in Single-A, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider some of its top players, including winger Nick Blaney, play amateur hockey.
Blaney is tied with Quaker Valley’s Ryan Dickson and teammate Austin Heakins for second in scoring in Class A with 32 points (17 G + 15 A). He’ll carry a seven-game goal streak into next Friday’s home contest with Section 3 leader Westmont Hilltop, a Penguins Cup Semifinal rematch.
In the meantime, he’s been skating for the Pittsburgh Vipers, a Midget AAA Tier 1 club for players 18 and under, along with PIHL linemates Heakins and Joe Bender, and former Mars teammate/Class A scoring champion Elliot Tisdale.
I caught up with Nick a while back to discuss how playing for an amateur team has helped Mars prepare to defend its regional and state championships, and to reminisce about his unforgettable performance in last year’s Pennsylvania Cup Final:
OTHER PIHL NEWS:
When I talked to Penn-Trafford defenseman Dan Greene on Twitter over the holidays, he said he thought the Warriors’ loss to North Allegheny that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten was the humbling experience they needed to improve and finish the regular season just as strong they started.
So far it looks like Penn-Trafford (12-1-0) has learned whatever lessons it needed to from that reality check at BladeRunners Warrendale a few weeks ago, as evidenced by its 4-1 win over AAA-Sec. 4 rival Norwin (8-3-2) at Center Ice Monday night.
Dan Maier scored twice late in the game to secure the victory, also adding an assist, and Conlan Sodrosky’s goal midway through the second period proved to the game-winner. Mike Cheswick stood tall with 31 saves.
Maier leads Class AAA with 26 goals, and with 39 points he has leapfrogged Sodrosky (35 points) for the Triple-A scoring lead.
Next Thursday Penn-Trafford, which now has a six-point cushion in Section 4, will host last-place Hempfield. The Warriors, who will play six sectional games during the regular season, have won their first three, as they continue to trail unbeaten Canon-McMillan by just two points for the top Penguins Cup Playoff seed.
In Class AA, the war of attrition at the bottom of the Penguins Cup Playoff standings should be an interesting one this Friday. Section 1 rivals North Hills and Moon will enter the second leg of the 2012 UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Outdoor Charity Series on the heels of big wins.
Moon (5-5-0) surprised Pine-Richland, one of the improved teams in the classification this season, with a 5-3 win at Airport Ice Arena Monday night. A pair of goals by leading scorer A.J. Coleman, his team-high tenth and 11th of the year, broke a third-period tie for the Tigers.
Moon holds the No. 7 seed in Class AA, but is only four points ahead of arch-nemesis Montour for the tenth and final playoff berth.
North Hills (2-9-0) won its non-section basement battle with Franklin Regional, 5-4, at the RMU Island Sports Center Monday, snapping an eight-game skid. As of now, it is the varsity program’s first “pure” victory since returning to the league; Plum forfeited its Halloween night game against the Indians.
Lucas Chiala’s hat trick gave the Panthers the lead, but Tyler Heisel’s power play goal with under two minutes left earned the win for North Hills, which now trails section rival Montour by just two points for the last Penguins Cup Playoff spot.
In fact, a Montour loss at Bishop Canevin Thursday and a North Hills win Friday over Moon would create an essential tie for that spot (Montour already owns a win over North Hills).
Moon will team with North Hills Friday to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Check back with this blog for more on the Outdoor Charity Series this weekend.
By the way…speaking of ties and Bishop Canevin, if the state champs win Thursday, and if Section 1 leader West Allegheny beats Kiski Area that night, the Crusaders, Indians, and Erie Cathedral Prep will be tied for the top spot in Class AA entering next week’s action.
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