By Matt Popchock
The dynastic run of the Mars Planets in Class A of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League ended with the team falling one win short of joining Meadville, Peters Township, and Bishop McCort as the only others to win four Penguins Cups in a row since the league was formed.
Quaker Valley (20-1-1), the last team to defeat them on NHL ice, ended their reign with a 4-2 victory over Mars (19-3-0) in the Penguins Cup Final at CONSOL Energy Center Saturday afternoon. This is the third title in program history for the Quakers, who last won by defeating the Planets by a two-goal margin in 2008.
These teams had either won or played in each of the last seven Class A championship contests, including the one this weekend, so the Quakers knew the task that lay ahead. But Quaker Valley drew upon its blowout victory over Mars in Warrendale Feb. 21, and, once again, it shut down one of the most dynamic attacks in the state, while getting a pair of goals from team scoring leader Ryan Dickson in the final minute of the second period (video courtesy of PIHL Network/Rubino Productions):
“We had a lot more chances in the second,” Dickson said after netting his fifth and sixth goals in playoff action. “We knew we had to limit their shots, and just finish ours.”
Those late strikes punctuated a power play goal by Clayton Bouchard, his third of the playoffs, that broke a scoreless tie with 8:52 left till the ice cut. It was Quaker Valley’s seventh power play goal of the postseason; the Quakers led Class A in that department during the regular season.
Not that Dickson’s valiant effort wasn’t appreciated, but the Quakers made even the 1-0 lead seem mountainous. Not even Mars, which averaged around seven goals a game through the Penguins Cup Playoffs, could crack the least scored-upon defense in Class A, and the Planets never mounted a serious response. Quaker Valley outshot them 12-1 in that period.
“We’ve probably got the best defensive corps in the league. When those guys are banging on all cylinders, it’s hard for anybody to score on us,” said team captain and All-Star Kevin Kenny, who collected three assists to run his playoff total to eight.
“We played a 2-1-2, and when they were able to get past it, Doug was able to make stops.”
Goaltender Doug Revak, who ended his first full PIHL season as a starting goaltender among the statistical leaders in Class A, only had to make 12 saves thanks to that fundamentally sound defense.
“Our goal was to be more creative in our defensive end,” Revak said. “It was just a great team effort. Coach (Kevin) Quinn has installed a great defensive plan, and we executed it. We got most of our offense in the second period, and I think that was a direct result of our defensive play.”
Qukaer Valley generated more offense early in the third. A wrist shot from Jimmy Perkins from right on the doorstep of Christian Knapp beat the Mars netminder over his shoulder 32 seconds into the frame, as the Quakers continued doing to the Planets basically what Mars had done to three prior Penguins Cup Final opponents, including them.
With forward Joe Bender still absent due to a controversial suspension for a game misconduct in the quarterfinals, big man Robert Foley continued skating on head coach Steve Meyers’ top line with Austin Heakins and Nick Blaney. Foley got Mars on the board with an essential power play goal at 10:39 of the third just as a minor penalty expired, then scored a true one by banging in a loose puck with 1:25 remaining.
It made the game interesting enough that Meyers pulled Knapp for an extra skater immediately thereafter, but it did nothing to spring the trap set by the Quakers, who will play for the Pennsylvania Cup against Flyers Cup champion Bayard Rustin at 3:00 PM Sunday at the RMU Island Sports Center. Quaker Valley’s only state title came in 2006.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)