By Matt Popchock
Two of the toughest squads in Class AAA will renew one of the most meaningful rivalries in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League when Peters Township (11-3-3) takes on overall standings leader Canon-McMillan (16-1-0) at Ice-O-Plex in Southpointe at 8:30 Monday night.
The game will be available to Comcast cable subscribers in the greater Pittsburgh area as part of their on-demand local high school sports coverage. Chris Shovlin and I will have the call; Comcast viewers can check their local listings for more information.
This season marked the first time since the 2005-06 campaign that the Miner’s Cup was anything more than a glorified exhibition game. That was when the Indians’ dynastic run in Class AA ended, and a full four years before the Big Macs would hoist the Penguins Cup for the first time. Now, as both schools compete for a trophy that commemorates the blue-collar heritage of both communities, a section crown and playoff positioning are also at stake in what could be a preview of things to come at CONSOL Energy Center.
On Dec. 12 Canon-McMillan retired the jersey of former All-Star and Penguins Cup champion Brett Oldaker, one of the program’s all-time greats. The 2011 Class AAA silver medalists honored their former captain the best way possible by beating the Indians 3-2 on a third-period goal by J.D. Oddi, his second of the game:
A sweep by Canon-Mac tonight would give it back-to-back AAA-Sec. 1 titles.
Peters, the second-place team in the section, and the second-place team in Class AA last year, needs a split tonight not only to keep its slim section championship hopes alive, but, maybe more importantly, to pull even with Mount Lebanon for the No. 4 playoff spot in the Triple-A bracket. The top four teams in that classification earn first-round byes.
Injuries have really hurt them offensively, but the Indians still boast a dynamic offense led by All-Star forward Taylor Cox. He’s been quiet since coming back from a concussion, going four straight games without a goal, so one wonders if he’s due, especially considering he scored in the last meeting. Trevor Recktenwald leads Peters with 12 goals and 23 points, having registered multiple points in his last five league outings.
Furthermore, Peters Township has survived those injuries by playing responsibly on the back end. The starting nod for tonight will be a game-time decision, according to seventh-year head coach Rick Tingle, but both Brian Baker and Jesse Borne have done a fine job in net, and led by another All-Star, Aaron McDonough, the Indians are the least scored-upon team in Class AAA with 32 goals against.
New goaltender Ryan Christian has also been sharp as the proverbial tack for the Big Macs, whose best defense has been its growing offense. Despite significant roster turnover, third-year head coach Yuri Krivokhija, a former Soviet pro, has really developed his underclassmen quite nicely. Oddi has put up 21 points as a sophomore and recorded a hat trick in last Monday’s victory over Norwin, while junior Anthony Tonkovich has registered points in 15 straight games and ranks sixth in Class AAA with 39 (19 G + 20 A).
Once again, Canon-Mac loves to generate offense up high, so Alex “Sasha” Baskakov is always dangerous when he corrals the puck. The Russian immigrant has six goals in his past six games and is regarded as one of the more skilled defensemen in the PIHL.
Check back later for more on this game.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)