By Matt Popchock


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Last year, in honor of the NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field, the PIHL held its own inaugural Winter Classic event on a makeshift public skating rink next to Stage AE. A similar facility known as the “Penguins Pond” has opened by South Side Works, and the league is making use of it much sooner than we anticipated.

The 2010-11 PIHL Winter Classic consisted of six varsity games that were played on the Stage AE rink during the annual holiday break. This season, however, over 30 freshman, JV, and varsity games have been scheduled for the Penguins Pond, and those games got underway this week.

According to PIHL Commissioner Ed Sam, the league had been talking with the Penguins since the summertime about expanding the event. The league tried to allow a greater variety of teams to use the new outdoor rink, with respect to bottom line and how easily certain games could be moved from one venue to another.

“We tried to control the costs, and we looked at which facilities could help us the most with ice costs,” Sam said. “We tried to be fair [when selecting teams], but because of the timing of it all, we had to look at costs as well.”

Knoch, Greensburg Central Catholic, State College, and Fox Chapel had the collective honor of christening the Penguins Pond Monday night. The evening ended with Knoch earning its first win of the season in a 7-4 decision over GCC in Class A Section 4 competition, while State College rolled to a 7-1 win over Fox Chapel in a Class AAA non-section nightcap.

The weather was anything but wintry, though despite rain earlier in the day, Fox Chapel head coach Cory Rome said the ice was in good shape. Rome pointed out it’s practically the same setup as the Stage AE rink, with the only downside being the marginal areas near the boards, where puck movement can be unpredictable.

“We were worried about 50-degree temperatures, but they can keep that ice good up to 60 degrees,” Sam said. “None of us have a lot of experience working with outdoor facilities, so we just tried to learn from whatever mistakes were made last year, and fortunately there weren’t very many.”

Here is the remaining schedule of varsity games slated for the Penguins Pond at South Side Works (visit the Penguins’ website for more information about the rink):

Thu. Dec. 1 – Pine-Richland vs. Chartiers Valley – 7:00

Thu. Dec. 1 – Peters Township vs. Mount Lebanon – 9:00

Mon. Dec. 5 – Latrobe vs. Kiski Area – 7:00

Mon. Dec. 5 – Norwin vs. Shaler – 9:00

Tue. Dec. 6 – Serra Catholic vs. South Fayette – 9:00

Mon. Dec. 12 – Seneca Valley vs. Pittsburgh Central Catholic – 7:00

Mon. Dec. 12 – Penn-Trafford vs. Butler – 9:00

Mon. Dec. 19 – West Allegheny vs. Moon – 9:00

Thu. Dec. 22 – Fox Chapel vs. Bethel Park – 9:00

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Thu. Jan. 5 – Wheeling Central Catholic vs. Central Valley – 7:00

Thu. Jan. 5 – Quigley vs. Blackhawk – 9:00

Keep reading the “Mr. High School Sports” blog for more on these games.


It’s been a topsy-turvy week for Mount Lebanon. Longtime South Hills youth instructor Dave Hornack had his Blue Devils (5-1-0) playing some pretty inspired hockey entering the holiday week, and they’ll leave Thanksgiving with the taste of both a sweet victory and a bitter defeat.

On Monday Mount Lebanon rolled to a 7-3 rout of new Class AAA Section 2 rival Seneca Valley (1-4-0) at the Mount Lebanon Ice Arena. Trevor Nelson’s goal with eight seconds remaining in the opening frame was a prelude to a second period in which Lebo erupted for five more, including back-to-back strikes by Jim Phillips set up by Thomas Horn three minutes apart.

Horn would add a goal of his own, and Nelson also contributed three assists.

Click here to view highlights from this game, thanks to my friends at the PIHL Network and Rubino Productions.

On Wednesday, however, the Blue Devils saw that karma invert, as they fell for the first time in PIHL play this season in a 7-2 loss to unbeaten Canon-McMillan, their former section rivals. The Big Macs (6-0-0) broke that game open by scoring five times in the third period, including three from Caleb Diesel, who completed a four-goal effort.

Carmen Dalesandro had three assists for Canon-McMillan, which visits Seneca Valley next Tuesday at BladeRunners in Warrendale. The Penguins Cup runners-up continue to lead Section 1, and Mount Lebanon, despite the loss, maintains a comfortable lead in Section 2 with Peters Township on the horizon.

Meanwhile, the disparity between two Johnstown-area rivals was proven to be a little wider than usual Wednesday night.

Westmont Hilltop (3-1-0), coming off a grudge-match victory over section rival Kittanning, kept its momentum going by blasting Bishop McCort 9-0 in a Class A Section 3 contest at the famous Cambria County War Memorial.

It was the first meeting between the two since a 5-2 win by McCort back on Jan. 17, 2010. The varsity program sat out of the PIHL for the 2010-11 season due to insufficient roster volume but still competed independently, while the JV squad played in the Laurel Mountain League.

What was most impressive about these Hilltoppers was their balance. Each Westmont goal came from a different source, including one apiece from forward and leading scorer Noah McQuillan and defenseman Zak Kindya. The co-captains continue to share the team lead in goals with five each.

James Stenger fought hard in goal for the Crimson Crushers (0-4-0), despite absorbing his fourth loss of the season. Bishop McCort remains stuck on a Class A-low two goals scored.

Click here to view highlights from this game, thanks to my friends at the PIHL Network and Rubino Productions.

Bishop McCort will visit another hated rival, Serra Catholic, at the Rostraver Ice Garden, when it resumes play next week, while Westmont will host Greensburg Central Catholic, the other winless team in Class A, at the War Memorial.

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