By Matt Popchock
On Tuesday the Quaker Valley Quakers got to return to the site of a landmark event in program history. Come to think of it, Saturday was also a significant day in PIHL history, not just because of what happened, but because of what didn’t happen.
Two days after winning their second Class A Pennsylvania Cup in program history with a 4-1 decision over Flyers Cup champion Bayard Rustin, the Quakers were recognized for their achievements in a special ceremony during intermission of the Penguins-Islanders game, along with Class AA Penguins Cup champion West Allegheny and Class AAA Penguins Cup champion Bethel Park.
Before the Indians and Black Hawks donned their gold medals at CONSOL Energy Center, Quaker Valley defeated reigning champion Mars to capture their third Penguins Cup and first since 2008, when they also defeated the Planets. Had the Quakers not prevailed, Mars would have joined Meadville (1992-96), Peters Township (2002-05), and Bishop McCort (1994-97) as the only schools to win four straight.
The first for Quaker Valley came in 2006. That team boasted PIHL All-Star Mick Lemieux, nephew of you-know-who. The Quakers, who also featured eventual RMU recruits Colin and Furman South, went on to end a dry spell for the west in the Class A state title contest.
This championship squad also featured strong ties to our Boys of Winter. These (younger) boys of winter were led by head coach Kevin Quinn, brother of former Penguin winger/Lemieux golf partner Dan Quinn. Kevin helped create the varsity program a decade and a half ago, and minded the bench for all three of those Penguins Cups. This year he was assisted by Furman South.
Despite the raw talent he cultivated over time, the task before he and his staff last Saturday was considerably tall. Not only did his kids have to defeat the only team that proved itself capable of beating them–the Planets won the first meeting, 4-3, at Airport Ice Arena on Halloween–but they had to prove their stunning mercy-rule victory a month earlier was no accident.
Amazingly, the Quakers used their size, speed, and team defense to echo that Feb. 21 performance. They seized a four-goal lead en route to a 4-2 victory that, in truth, appeared closer than it felt. Quaker Valley did to Mars exactly what Mars had done to it at the beginning of its dynastic run; the Quakers smothered the old guard with fundamentally sound defense, and thanks to opportunistic offense, they changed the guard.
Nevertheless, the “Q” in “QV” stood for “question mark” as the team had to lace ‘em up against the Knights just 24 hours later. Could the western champs possibly have anything left by the time they had to face a much better rested eastern squad?
It didn’t look good when that first shift, during which Bayard Rustin co-captain Jeff Nelson beat Doug Revak just 30 seconds after the puck drop, made the Quakers appear flatter than an old bicycle tire. But as this game progressed, the Quakers made their way to the shop and traded in their Schwynn for a Harley, and Revak had a firm grip on the handlebars.
“The atmosphere was electric, and I think it really helped a lot, giving us energy,” Revak said. “I played my game, and it was good enough today.”
He steered aside 16 pucks and helped kill off four Rustin power plays, including a 4-on-3 situation midway through the third period. That bought time for captain Kevin Kenny to end his high school hockey career with an all-important game-tying goal late in the first, and for Clayton Bouchard to supply the game-winner five minutes into the second.
“I just wanted to get it to the net so Luke could get a rebound on the other side,” Bouchard said. “Unbelievable, but it was game-changer. We felt we had momentum after that.”
It was Bouchard who set up point man Ryan Lottes for a back-breaking goal with just 2:11 left in regulation, and it was unheralded forward Otto Schaefer who iced the cake on a power play with 18 seconds left.
“That was nice,” Revak said of Lottes’ blast from the blue line. “That goal let us soak it in, and enjoy the moment.”
“I was just trying to get the puck down low…and then I saw it go in,” Lottes said. “It was big to get an insurance goal there.”
It was the Quakers, as a team, who earned the right to hoist a Cup–another Cup–on Sunday.
As the Quakers celebrated their state championship, fittingly, on the very sheet of ice where the South brothers continued their hockey careers, they also said goodbye to four seniors. Revak, as much as any, deserved to go out a winner. He finished the regular season with a 1.78 GAA that was tops among Class A starters.
Scrappy forward Luke O’Neill averaged over a point per game during the regular campaign and embodied the two-way style of play Quinn worked so hard to teach. Jayson Lottes supplied a steady stream of offense, including a power play hat trick against red-hot Kittanning in the Penguins Cup Semifinals. Kenny finished among the top ten in scoring with 47 points and recorded three assists on NHL ice.
“At the beginning of the season, we had high hopes. But this is just a dream come true,” defenseman Jake Pilewicz said.
But Bouchard and Ryan Lottes are both back. Leading scorer Ryan Dickson will be a senior, while Jake and Adam Pilewicz return on the blue line, with Adam having shown promise as a freshman. Backup goalie Jonathan Pijar proved himself worthy of inheriting Revak’s job.
Last weekend didn’t just mark the end of Mars’ incredible run. Quite possibly, it marked the beginning of another.
“I went to the last game in ’06,” Bouchard said. “Same atmosphere, loud crowd, and everything. It feels great to live up to that team.”
“We had a lot of alumni from that [first] state championship team here with us, and that was great,” Jake said. “Hopefully these guys can repeat what they did.”
(Videos courtesy of Bob Sebastian/Power Play Productions, edited by John Rubino/PIHL Network.)
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)