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“Mr. High School Sports” – PIHL Rink Report: More Pond Hockey, New Semifinal Site & More

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Outdoor Charity Series logo

(Image courtesy of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League)

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

From Mother Nature’s perspective, the second leg of the 2012 UPMC Centers for Rehab Servies Outdoor Charity Series was a sharp contrast to the first. The ice was nonetheless dicey as last week, this time because of a slight, but steady snow that blanketed western Pennsylvania, accompanied by temperatures roughly 50 degrees cooler.

Nothing could cool off Moon junior forward Trevor Handlovitch, whose four-goal explosion powered the Tigers (6-5-0) to a 5-2 win over feisty North Hills (2-10-0) in a AA-Sec. 1 contest at North Park Friday that benefitted the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The JDRF was, in fact, a major inspiration behind the creation of the Outdoor Charity Series four years ago. Longtime Bethel Park head coach Jim McVay and former Mount Lebanon varsity coach Paul Taibi each have lived through the disease, and they agreed to stage a lone outdoor game Feb. 2008 to raise money for that organization.

Tyler Heisel–fittingly, wearing No. 66–scored both of the Indians’ goals on the man-advantage. North Hills now sits, essentially, two full games behind section rival Montour for the last playoff spot in the classification. Moon maintains its grip on the No. 7 overall spot in Class AA with Friday’s victory.

Handlovitch put the Tigers ahead with a pair of first-period goals, the latter coming on the power play, before Heisel flipped a rebound into the back of the net with three seconds left to cut Moon’s lead to 2-1 after one. He completed his hat trick 3:09 into the second period by taking a lead pass from Josh Bioni at center ice, turning on the jets, and beating Nick Reslink in tight with a wrist shot to give the Tigers another two-goal advantage.

After Bioni’s floater from the left point surprised Reslink early in the third to make it 4-2, Handlovitch provided the final margin with a shot from the top of the right circle with under three minutes to go, his tenth goal of the season.

Of equal intrigue was the performance of Reslink’s counterpart, J.T. Cillo. He was penciled in as an emergency starter not long before the puck drop, and he made 24 saves to earn his first varsity win of 2012.

“When it got to be 3-2, it was a little nerve-wracking,” Cillo said. “But our defense played well in front me…we didn’t give up any two-on-ones or breakaways, so I guess I can’t really complain.”

Another great goaltending performance, albeit in defeat, highlighted the nightcap.

Seneca Valley starter Ethan Helbig turned aside 33 shots and looked just as determined to turn heads as former starter Mike Single did last year, when his team tied North Allegheny, 3-3, in the 2011 Outdoor Charity Series.

However, senior forward Zack Morton disrupted the deja vu by finishing a Josh King rebound with 7:54 left in regulation, and captain Jake Hubert’s insurance goal four minutes later gave the Tigers (9-3-1) a 2-0 decision over the Raiders (1-11-0) in AAA-Sec. 2 play. The schools raised money for the Pittsburgh chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

North Allegheny dominated the game with its forecheck, but had nothing to show for all that offensive zone time until an odd-man rush led by King. His wrist shot commanded the attention of Helbig, and his rebound turned into an easy tap-in for Morton, who was trailing the play.

It was his fourth of the year, and Hubert got his fifth of the year off a faceoff win, which N.A. had plenty of on Friday. Defenseman Harry Kramer pushed the puck up to Hubert, who beat Helbig with a wrist shot from the right wing to clinch it and bring the Tigers within two points of section leader Mount Lebanon. Joey Griffin assisted on the goal for his team-high 21st point.

“Our coaches said during the break, that was the best they’ve seen us move the puck,” Hubert said. “Even with the ice the way it was, we made it work. It was a fun game…once we finally buried one, we knew we had it.”

Matt Goda made 16 saves for his second shutout and ninth win of the season, eclipsing his win total from 2010-11, and putting the Tigers into a tie with Peters Township for the No. 4 spot in the Penguins Cup bracket. Those teams meet at Ice-O-Plex in Southpointe Jan. 19 in what will be the first PIHL game in history to be broadcast live on streaming video.

Check out the PIHL Network for more on that upcoming event.

As long as we’re talking about playoff positioning, we should also bring you up to speed on playoff locations. For the first time since 2007, the Pittsburgh Penguins will host the Penguins Cup Championship Series, but not the Penguins Cup Semifinals.

Due to scheduling difficulties, the league’s Board of Governors agreed to move that playoff round to the RMU Island Sports Center in Coraopolis. The Island Sports Center, already home to several PIHL teams, and to Robert Morris’ men’s and women’s Division I programs, will also host the Open Cup championship game the evening of Thu., Mar. 8 at 8:15.

The Open Cup, now in its seventh year of existence, pits the winners of the Chiefs Cup tournament between Section 3 and 4 teams and the Nailers Cup tournament between Section 1 and 2 teams for the championship of the Open Class. (Teams in the Open Class are usually there for developmental or manpower reasons; several of them have permission to use players from neighboring school districts.)

“There’s just so much going on at CONSOL at that time,” said PIHL Commissioner Ed Sam. “We and the Penguins both wanted to make it work, but it just didn’t.”

Personally I’ve always felt the same way about the Penguins’ role in hosting the high school hockey championships as I do about the Steelers and Duquesne University hosting the football and basketball finals, respectively (wouldn’t mind seeing some games at The Pete, but that’s neither here nor there):

I think it’s an excellent reward for the players who work hard enough to make it that far. But for our own purposes, I see this scheduling conflict as a blessing in disguise; to have two playoff rounds at CONSOL Energy Center, as nice a proposition as it is, makes the end of the season a little anti-climactic. There isn’t a single kid in the PIHL who doesn’t want to play in that building, and by cutting back slightly, you not only save a little money, but you also give the kids more of an incentive to win their semifinal games. Prolonging the pursuit of that dream adds to the excitement of the postseason, and it would make them appreciate that experience even more.

In any event, at least players can have the peace of mind that this change is not a permanent one.

The Penguins Cup Playoffs begin Mon., Mar. 12, with the semifinal round beginning Mon., Mar. 19. All three finals are at CONSOL Sat., Mar. 24.

Did you know…Island Sports Center’s claim to fame is that one of its managers is former NHL player and “Slap Shot” co-star Dave Hanson. His son Christian starred at Peters Township, and later, Notre Dame, in the early 21st century before catching on as an undrafted free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs:


He joined the Washington Capitals organization this past summer.

Hanson was a PIHL All-Star, and there are plenty of those to talk about lately; the 2012 All-Star rosters were announced by the league earlier this week. The 2012 PIHL All-Star Event faces off at Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, for the second year in a row, Sun., Jan. 22, beginning with the Open Class game at 11:30 A.M. Each classification will be divided into teams of “Northeast Conference” (teams from Sections 3 and 4) and “Southwest Conference” (teams from Sections 1 and 2) All-Stars.

All-Star logo

(Courtesy of the PIHL)

Believe it or not, undefeated Mars did not monopolize the Southwest Conference roster for Class A. Section 1 leader Serra Catholic has five starters, while the Planets’ top line of Nick Blaney, Joe Bender, and Austin Heakins were the only three from that team selected. Zach Schindler, Garner Kraemer, and Tyler Speis made it as forwards, and defensemen R.J. Kendi and Tyler Kresl will join them.

Not bad for one of the smaller varsity programs in the PIHL, eh?

Leading the Class AA Northeast Conference team with five All-Stars apiece are Pine-Richland and Section 4 leader Latrobe. Among the Rams going are defenseman/captain Scott McAliney and forward Clint Loney, a member of former Pittsburgh Penguin Troy Loney’s family. Forward Josh Singley and goalie Shane Brudnok are headed back for the Wildcats.

Believe it or not, Bishop Canevin, West Allegheny, and Erie Cathedral Prep are in a dead heat for the top playoff spot in Double-A…but the state champion Crusaders lead the Southwest Conference team with five selections, including sophomore sensation Randy Unger and new goaltender Nikita Meskin.

Penn-Trafford has been the talk of the league, and sure enough, the Warriors have four representatives on the Class AAA Northeast Conference team, though, oddly enough, Fox Chapel, which is having a down year and is clinging tenuously to the last playoff spot, also has four. Conlan Sodrosky and Dan Maier have been chasing each other in the scoring race, and they’ll honor Penn-Trafford up front, while the Foxes’ most notable honoree is top forward Christian Wirginis. In addition, Scott Trellis’ recent solid play between the pipes was enough to get him a nod for Fox Chapel.

Canon-McMillan, the only unbeaten team in the PIHL besides Mars, has three starters and two alternates on the Southwest Conference squad. Zach McKown and Anthony Tonkovich will represent the Big Macs as forwards, and highly-regarded defenseman Alex Baskakov is going as well. Head coach Yuri Krivokhija will coach the Southwest team.

Both Open Class rosters appear to be up to snuff. Greensburg-Salem, Indiana, and Ford City are all having fine seasons, and they each have three All-Stars scheduled to appear at Rostraver in a couple weeks for the Northeast Conference. Central Valley, in just its second season of existence, has three players starting for the Southwest. That team will be coached by PIHL veteran Jamie Dougherty (Quigley), and the Northeast will be helmed by one of my personal favorite coaches in that classification: Chris Chiusano, who led Carrick to the Nailers Cup title in 2006.

But the thing that jumps out at me the most regarding the Open Class All-Stars is the one player who isn’t listed. Salem forward Sean Beichner, who has 39 goals and 57 points, and trails Quigley All-Star Doug Simon by one point for the overall scoring lead, has not been selected to the Northeast team.

Granted, it is common for a few players each season, especially the top ones, to voluntarily miss the festivities due to other (hockey-related) commitments. At any rate, speaking as someone who, unfortunately, hasn’t had a chance to see a lot of Open Class hockey this year, and has been looking forward to seeing the best of the best at least once before the season ends, that’s a damn disappointing omission.

Check back with the “Mr. High School Sports” blog soon for more on the PIHL All-Star Event…

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

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