By Matt Popchock
We are at BladeRunners Ice Complex in Bethel Park to watch the Black Hawks (14-7-1), who are flying high after a league-best 11 wins in a row, host the McDowell Trojans (7-15-0) in Class AAA Penguins Cup First Round action. Faceoff is set for 8:00.
Bethel Park, the third-place team in Section 1, enters this tournament as the No. 6 seed, and one of the most talked-about teams in the PIHL due to their incredible second-half surge, while McDowell enters as the No. 11 seed.
We’ll give you periodic updates on tonight’s game as it happens, and we’ll also have updates on the other four First Round contests as they become available.
8:08 – These teams are just about to get underway. In the meantime, a couple updates:
For all you trivia buffs out there, Gregory Newman scored the first goal of the 2012 PIHL postseason, for Freeport. The Yellowjackets lead Bishop McCort 2-0 midway through the second period.
Shaler got on the board first at Ice-O-Plex, but Taylor Cox and Cole Snyder answered right back. Peters Township still leads Shaler, 2-1, early in the second.
8:10 – Danny Yost beats Evan Szablewski through the five-hole just half a minute in, giving Bethel Park a 1-0 lead. The Hawks crushed McDowell 7-1 in their last meeting Dec. 1, at this venue, and they’re off to a fast start in this one too. Szablewski stopped 19 of 20 shots in a backup role that night.
8:16 – Senior Dylan Jones buries a wrister from the bottom of the left circle for a 2-0 Bethel Park lead, and quite frankly, it should probably be at least double that. Hawks are owning the puck with 9:30 left in the first period.
8:20 – With a new goalie in the cage for McDowell, Bethel Park gets a power play goal from Dale Reither, who was wide open in the left circle, for a 3-0 lead. Seven minutes left in the first. Prior to the penalty against Pete Zastawney for head contact, the Trojans shot one on Alex Blum that he never froze, but got a whistle anyway.
Tyler Sutula in goal for McDowell. Interesting how head coach Bob Hammers pulled a quick trigger.
By the way, John Rubino of the PIHL Network–who is doing a great job spotting for me–has also spotted Canon-McMillan head coach Yuri Krivokhija, who must be in the building to scout Bethel Park. That’s the team the Big Macs beat in the semifinals last year.
8:30 – Good PK by McDowell toward the end of the frame, which was the only redeeming quality of the first period for the visitors. Bethel Park in command 3-0 at the first break.
Meanwhile, Peters Township has all but put away Shaler in other AAA action. The Indians lead 6-1 right before the ice cut.
Freeport leads Bishop McCort 3-1 heading into the ice cut at the Belmont Complex.
8:31 – Start of the second period here at BladeRunners…
8:36 – Coach Hammers calls his timeout after the Trojans give up a fourth goal with 12:26 left in the second. Austin Jameyson shot it up high, and although Dale Reither might have gotten a high stick on that puck, officials say it’s a good goal. 4-0 Hawks.
8:40 – Sutula just made a nifty glove save on JV move-up Ryan Kusmien. He’s trying to keep McDowell in it, but the Trojans just can’t penetrate Bethel Park’s trap. They haven’t really had any quality chances since that controversial whistle in the first period.
8:43 – UPDATES: Freeport maintains its 3-1 lead over McCort with 12 minutes left in regulation. Peters Township leads Shaler 6-2 at the ice cut.
8:44 – Make it 5-0 Hawks. Versatile defenseman Jake Brown slaps one from the right point that floats past the right leg of Sutula for his first of the playoffs. 7:41 left in the second.
8:47 – McDowell might finally have a chance to sustain some offensive pressure, as Joe Bello goes off for tripping with under six minutes till the ice cut. Might be too little, too late, though, even if the Trojans get one here. Bethel Park has played a pretty responsible game.
8:49 – With 3:37 left, Zach Poe scores along the goal line on a beautifully set one-timer just before the penalty expires. The Trojans do get that goose egg off the board.
8:53 – UPDATES: Freeport looks poised to end McCort’s first season back in the PIHL. The Jackets have opened up a 5-1 lead with seven minutes left. Meanwhile, Shaler isn’t going away, as the Titans have cut their deficit to Peters Township to 6-3, with ten minutes left in that one.
8:55 – End of the second. Bethel Park, once again, has its mojo, not to mention its bleached playoff hair, going on. Black Hawks lead 5-1 at the ice cut. A better period for McDowell, at least in the sense that they finally produced some offense, but the Hawks look determined not to turn a laugher into a nail-biter. Trojans will need an early goal to start the third.
Let’s get you caught up on the other playoff games:
Once again, Freeport leads Bishop McCort, 5-1, in Class A First Round competition. Only 9 shots for the Crimson Crushers. Cole Hepler has a hat trick for Freeport, the second goal coming on a late second-period penalty shot.
Peters Township now leads Shaler 8-3, with under six minutes left in that game. Patrick Hannan (son of ex-Penguin Dave Hannan), Recktenwald, and Cox each have a pair. Luke Vogel has scored twice for Shaler. What a different team the Indians are now that Cox, maybe their most dynamic forward, has had time to really get back in a groove and recover from a couple early-season injuries.
9:05 – UPDATE: With about two and a half left at Ice-O-Plex, Hannan completed the HT with a PPG. 9-3 Peters.
Meanwhile, both teams are stretching out on the ice here at BladeRunners Bethel Park, with the third period moments away…
9:10 – Hawks with an early power play, with freshman Dan Miller in the box. And now it’ll be a 5-on-3 for 45 seconds. Bethel came out flying to begin the third. Good work by Sutula in goal.
9:12 – With 11:44 left, Jones nets his second for Bethel Park, 5-on-4. Waited for traffic to develop in the crease and fired a wrister that Sutula never saw. 6-1 Hawks. Looks like this one’s over…
9:18 – UPDATES: Congratulations to Peters Township, who advances in Class AAA, and Freeport, who advances in Class A to the Quarterfinals. That round will begin Wednesday, though most of its games will be played Thursday, it appears. More on tonight’s games as it becomes available…
9:24 – Final moments here. BP now 2-for-5 on the power play, unofficially, as a bench call for too many men does not come back to haunt the Trojans.
9:25 – Hawks don’t pick up on the backdoor play, and Ryan Guzek, McDowell’s top forward, beats Blum out in front with a minute left. Hawks answer right back as Kusmien snaps one past Sutula. The second-string goalie did as much as he could tonight, but the Trojans were simply in over their heads against what is probably the best hockey team in Class AAA right now.
9:28 – It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. If Blum is a believer in that axiom, he won’t be happy about the way this one ended; he can’t stop a snap shot by Miller for a McDowell power play goal, its second of the night, right before the buzzer.
But anyway, Bethel Park takes care of business, and advances to the Class AAA Quarterfinals with a 7-3 win over the Trojans tonight. Once again, Peters Township defeated Shaler, 9-3, in the other Class AAA First Round contest.
9:45 – Okay, here’s what the Class AAA Penguins Cup Quarterfinals *might* look like:
If Upper St. Clair and Norwin win Tuesday:
Penn-Trafford vs. Norwin
Canon-McMillan vs. Upper St. Clair
North Allegheny vs. Bethel Park
Mount Lebanon vs. Peters Township
If Upper St. Clair and Pittsburgh Central Catholic win Tuesday:
Penn-Trafford vs. Central Catholic
(All other matchups would remain the same)
If State College and Norwin win Tuesday:
Penn-Trafford vs. State College
Canon-McMillan vs. Norwin
(Other two matchups would remain the same)
If State College and Pittsburgh Central Catholic win Tuesday:
Canon-McMillan vs. Pittsburgh Central Catholic
(All other matchups would remain the same)
9:55 – No upsets tonight. Plum edges the old alma mater 4-3, and Moon rolls 8-1 in Class AA First Round action. So North Hills and Gateway go home, and the Mustangs and Tigers go on. I thought Moon’s game might be a little closer (Gateway does have some offensive talent this year), but anyway…
More to come…
10:11 – Now a closer look at a few of tonight’s other games. Once again, your final here was Bethel Park 7, McDowell 3.
Class A First Round: Freeport 5, Bishop McCort 1. Cole Hepler’s natural hat trick was the difference. Greg Newman with a goal and two helpers (or should I say “Heplers?”).
Class AAA First Round: Peters Township 9, Shaler 3. Patrick Hannan with an “unnatural” hat trick. Trevor Recktenwald with two goals, three assists. Taylor Cox with two goals, one assist. Peters scored four times on special teams, including three PPG’s. Luke Vogel had Shaler’s last two.
Dylan Jones with a goal and two assists for Bethel tonight. Hawks out-shot McDowell 43-11.
10:15 - Well, that’s just about it for me. McDowell certainly wasn’t the best competition Bethel Park will face in these playoffs, but history was certainly on the home team’s side. In the “modern era” of western PA high school hockey, the Hawks have never lost their Penguins Cup opener. You’d like to see a little more of Alex Blum, but this team skates and moves the puck really well. Might be peaking.
For more on the Bethel Park-McDowell game, check out Joe Sager’s recap Tuesday morning on the PIHL Network.
Check back later for more Penguins Cup Playoff coverage.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)