By Matt Popchock
We knew Quaker Valley was a much-improved club this season, and certainly capable of winning PIHL gold for the first time since 2008. After all, they really pushed 2011 titlist Mars before narrowly losing their previous meeting on Halloween night.
But we would have laughed out loud if someone had told us they would make the Pennsylvania Cup champions stare at a mercy-rule-induced running clock.
That was the case when the Quakers ravaged goalies Christian Knapp and Alex Stepke in a 7-0 shocker at BladeRunners Warrendale, thanks to a pair of early scores from dependable blue-liner Jake Pilewicz, and goals from versatile Kevin Kenny and Jimmy Perkins, along with a clinic in puck possession.
With the number one seed in the classification practically locked up, Kevin Quinn’s kids have served notice that, if Mars wants to do what only Meadville, Peters Township, and Bishop McCort have done, and string together four straight Penguins Cups, this one won’t be handed to them.
Having said that, Quaker Valley’s ego-boosting victory won’t define either team. Of that much I am certain.
I can still recall my own similar surprise when, one chilly night in 2007, the Quakers routed Bishop McCort by that same score in a Penguins Cup Semifinal contest I called at Ice Castle in Castle Shannon.
Back then, Bishop McCort was as relevant in hockey as Quaker Valley and Mars are today. I could count on one hand the number of times that team got mercy-ruled.
So naturally, I was pretty certain whomever won the nightcap–in which Freeport ultimately beat Mars–would get whipped by the Quakers at the Igloo. When Quaker Valley’s very talented and very confident goaltender, Zac Zinger, later went on a radio show I hosted in a previous life and practically guaranteed a win, who could blame him?
Then, three days later, in a textbook “that’s why they play the game” game, the Yellowjackets stung the defending champs.
An open-ice hit on All-Star forward/celebrity offspring Mick Lemieux in the game’s opening moments set the tone. Zinger, who made some uncharacteristic mistakes, was outshined by his counterpart, Tim Zahumensky, and the Yellowjackets took their first-ever Penguins Cup title in a 4-1 head-turner.
Mars averages over seven goals per game, and, behind the Quakers, who have gotten phenomenal play from new netminder Doug Revak, the Planets have the second-best team GAA in the classification. Quaker Valley has made its point, but the Planets are just too good, and I’ve seen too many strange things happen, to believe the race in Class A has been decided before we see what happens on Center Avenue, at the finish line.
There are a couple interesting Class AAA games taking places at Ice-O-Plex in Southpointe tonight…
First, Mount Lebanon has seen its Section 2 title hopes go up in smoke after being upset by state champion Upper St. Clair, which is down this season, and Lebo will try to bounce back with a tough contest against Section 1 runner-up Peters Township.
With three games remaining for the Indians, who also have wounds to lick after losing a 6-5 heart-breaker to Penn-Trafford at home last Thursday, they trail Mount Lebanon by two points for the fourth and final first-round bye in the Penguins Cup Playoffs. The top 12 teams in Class AAA qualify, and the Blue Devils, who currently own that No. 4 spot, host Canon-McMillan Mar. 8 to close their regular campaign.
These South Hills powers staged a 1-1 tie on Penguins Pond at South Side Works Dec. 1, with Jimmy Phillips netting the lone goal for the Blue Devils. The senior has cooled off a bit in the second half of the season as he focuses on his college search, but he has still been a consistent forward and carries a five-game point streak into this week.
Taylor Cox had the only goal for Peters that night. It’s been a rough year for him health-wise; he hasn’t scored since Jan. 10. But he remains as dangerous as ever skating on a line with All-Star junior Trevor Recktenwald, who has multiple points in seven straight.
Speaking of Penn-Trafford and Canon-McMillan, they’ll wage a battle in Monday’s nightcap that could decide the No. 1 seed in Class AAA on senior night for the Big Macs.
Canon-Mac is aiming for its unprecedented third Penguins Cup Final berth in a row. It upset two-time finalist Seneca Valley as a No. 8 seed for its only championship in 2010, only to see the tables turned when they were the favorites and USC knocked them off in sudden-death overtime last year. But the Warriors, who wrapped up Section 4 with unexpected ease, have shown they’re for real.
They boast the top-scoring offense in the classification with 133 goals, and three of the top five top point-getters in Class AAA. Dan Maier leads the pack with 39 goals and 66 points, four points ahead of section rival Dan Moscone for the overall scoring lead; Conlan Sodrosky, who has shared Player of the Month honors with Moscone, has 58 points; and puck-moving defenseman Joe Boyer has 49.
The Big Macs have a decided edge at the other end of the ice, as they sit fourth in Class AAA in total defense. But they are also tied for third in total offense, and leading scorer Anthony Tonkovich has 12 points in his last five outings.
Check back later for more on this exciting night in Class AAA.
John Marshall nipped Kiski Area last March to become just the second West Virginia program to hoist the Open Cup, but the Monarchs won’t be coming to RMU Island Sports Center to defend their crown next Thursday. Wheeling Park routed them 8-3 in the Nailers Cup Quarterfinals at Wesbanco Arena Sunday.
Quigley, the top seed in that tournament, woke up in the second period of their game against Central Valley, scoring five times amidst a 7-2 win. The Spartans, who put up 54 shots and got a hat trick from Open Class scoring champ Doug Simon (47 G, 42 A), will play the Patriots in a fascinating semifinal affair on Neville Island Wednesday.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)