“Mr. High School Sports” – PIHL’s Finest Meets America’s Finest
By Matt Popchock
Of the 42 teams who call themselves members of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League’s “pure” classifications, three can call themselves Penguins Cup champions, and one has been fortunate enough to call itself a Pennsylvania Cup champion.
But even after five grueling months, six players who skated for state gold at the RMU Island Sports Center in Coraopolis two weeks ago haven’t seen the last of that building, nor have we seen the last of them.
That will be the site of the 26th annual America’s Showcase, a tournament featuring some of the top high school hockey players from all over the country. The first puck of round robin play drops at 9:00 A.M. Wednesday, with the championship game set for Sunday morning at 10:00.
For these heroes of the PIHL, Pittsburgh has been their Metropolis, but for five days, it will more closely resemble the Justice League headquarters. They will be constantly surrounded by the best of the best, and for those remotely serious about continuing to play hockey beyond high school, this is the opportunity for their careers to take flight, as scouts and recruiters from near and far frequent this event every year.
Four players on Team Pittsburgh hail from Bethel Park, which is coming off its seventh Class AAA Penguins Cup in program history. The fact Bethel Park is the most well represented PIHL team on this year’s squad does not surprise us in the slightest; with five Penguins Cups since the turn of the century, the Black Hawks have been the most dominant Class AAA squad of western Pennsylvania’s PIHL era.
What surprises us a tad is the irony that new Class A flag-bearer Quaker Valley, the only western team to win a Pennsylvania Cup game this year, is not represented at all, despite boasting a strong senior class led by multiple PIHL All-Star selection Kevin Kenny. Only two teams from that classification are represented, and, just as interestingly, neither one is Mars, which just saw its impressive three-year run as regional champion end.
In any event, West Allegheny had two young men selected for America’s Showcase who were crucial to the Indians claiming their first Class AA Penguins Cup in program history. Five players in all from that classification made the team.
So without further ado, let’s meet the 20 budding stars who will comprise Team Pittsburgh:
G Alex Blum (Bethel Park)
G Jason Kumpfmiller (West Allegheny)
F Patrick Coburn (West Allegheny)
F A.J. Coleman (Moon)
F Taylor Cox (Peters Township)
F Peter Karney (Bishop Canevin)
F Dan Moscone (State College)
F Trevor Nelson (Mt. Lebanon)
F Justin Sabilla (Chartiers Valley)
F Zach Schindler (Serra Catholic)
F Nick Schultz (South Fayette)
F Eric Smith (Pittsburgh Central Catholic)
F Conlan Sodrosky (Penn-Trafford)
F Zack Volzer (Bethel Park)
D Joe Bello (Bethel Park)
D Joe Boyer (Penn-Trafford)
D Jacob Brown (Bethel Park)
D Nick Harrison (Canon-McMillan)
D R.J. Kendi (Serra Catholic)
D Greg Vogt (Elizabeth Forward)
The team will be coached by Serra Catholic head coach Brian Boehm, who will be assisted by Chartiers Valley bench boss Lou Biancanello and Justin Berger of California University of Pennsylvania. Boehm recently led his Eagles to a 12th section title in 13 years, while Biancanello led his Colts to a second consecutive Penguins Cup Semifinal appearance.
Who does Boehm start in goal? The decision facing him between now and the opening faceoff might be tougher than the one facing Peter Laviolette.
Despite seeing some feisty opponents, Kumpfmiller lived up to his reputation when it mattered most after leading Class AA during the regular season with 17 wins and a 1.63 GAA to help West A earn a number one seed:
Blum, who was tops among Class AAA starters with a 1.69 GAA during the regular campaign, backstopped Bethel Park to a league-best win streak that eventually lasted 15 games, including this all-important nail-biter at a familiar venue:
Meanwhile, the selection of Lebo’s Nelson is intriguing from the standpoint that he is the only underclassman to make this year’s team. Part of a renaissance that has re-established the Blue Devils as a PIHL powerhouse, Nelson led them with 17 goals and 38 points during the regular season.
But for all the talent these dozen forwards possess, it stands to reason Sabilla may be the driving force behind Team Pittsburgh’s offense. Sabilla won the Class AA scoring title with 73 points and led the league’s “pure” classifications with 54 goals.
If anyone deserves to breathe the rarefied air inside the Island Sports Center, it’s he. His assault on the PIHL this past season included two double hat tricks and 12 hat tricks altogether, and he broke out the chapeaus in four straight games Jan. 26-Feb. 9. Furthermore, even though Char’ Valley fell short of gold again, Sabilla’s exemplary play continued in the postseason:
This team should be strong on the back end as well. Boyer adds size and scoring power from a Penn-Trafford team that found unprecedented success on offense, and Harrison, who provided valuable leadership as captain of a younger Canon-McMillan team, is a good complement to someone like Kendi, an equally diligent blue-liner on an equally young Serra squad.
But what really stands out is that the PIHL has two skilled kids named Jake Brown who play defense, and on Mar. 24 they both played their hearts out at CONSOL Energy Center–against each other:
As you can see, the one wearing gold is the one who got the nod. This Jake Brown can be an effective point man too; in fact, he has lined up at forward in the past.
Team Pittsburgh opens against Team New England-North at 3:00 P.M. Wednesday.
(Special thanks to the PIHL Network and Rubino Productions for their contributions to this post.)
(Follow the tournament on Twitter @AmericaShowcase.)
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)