By Matt Popchock


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First Round action in the 2012 Penguins Cup Playoffs continues at three local rinks Tuesday night, including Ice Castle in Castle Shannon, where No. 7 seed Upper St. Clair, the defending state champion in Class AAA, will host No. 10 seed State College in what might be the most fascinating contests of the night.

Not only did the Panthers see Larry Marks, the coach who guided them to Pennsylvania Cup gold, let go for political reasons and replaced by JV bench boss Gary Klapkowski, but they also saw much of their integral talent from that team graduate. Still, through a difficult season, USC has persevered, winning three in a row to close the regular campaign and earn home-ice advantage in round one.

The Panthers are led by All-Star power forward Mike Sweeney, who paced them with 21 goals and 34 points, and ended the regular season by registering points in his last five outings. A year ago, when tied with former champion Canon-McMillan in the Penguins Cup Final, it was he who proved to be the difference-maker (video courtesy of Rubino Productions):

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Tonight at 7:00 Sweeney and his mates will skate against a State College program that hasn’t made it out of the first round since moving up to Class AAA. The Lions are headed by former Player of the Month Dan Moscone, whose 36 goals and 60 points finished third in the classification. Moscone led Class AAA with 14 power play tallies.

Earlier this season, I talked to Mike about the trials and tribulations of being a defending Penguins Cup champion, and you can click here to check out that interview.

Pittsburgh Central Catholic visits Norwin at Center Ice in Delmont in the other Class AAA playoff contest tonight, set for an 8:40 faceoff, while Thomas Jefferson visits South Fayette at BladeRunners Bethel Park at 7:00.

Check back later for more Penguins Cup coverage.

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