By Matt Popchock


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The first round of the 2012 Penguins Cup Playoffs is in the books, and as is typically the case, there was a lot of chalk drawn down the road to CONSOL Energy Center.

We drew a chalk outline around one of last year’s three state champions, as State College upset Upper St. Clair in a Class AAA contest, but the Little Lions were one of only two lower-seeded teams to emerge victorious on the first two nights of the postseason. Thomas Jefferson, a paper underdog in Class A, also advanced.

Here are the resulting matchups for the Penguins Cup Quarterfinals, which begin tonight (seeding listed in parentheses):


(4) Mount Lebanon vs. (5) Peters Township – 7:10, tonight, Mount Lebanon Ice Arena

(1) Penn-Trafford vs. (10) State College – 6:30, Thursday, Center Ice

(3) North Allegheny vs. (6) Bethel Park – 8:30, Thursday, BladeRunners Warrendale

(2) Canon-McMillan vs. (8) Norwin – 6:30, Friday, Ice-O-Plex at Southpointe


(3) Bishop Canevin vs. (6) Pine-Richland – 6:40, Thursday, Mount Lebanon Ice Arena

(4) Erie Cathedral Prep vs. (5) Latrobe – 7:15, Thursday, Mercyhurst College

(2) Chartiers Valley vs. (7) Plum – 8:40, Thursday, Mount Lebanon Ice Arena

(1) West Allegheny vs. (8) Moon – 9:00, Thursday, Airport Ice Arena


(2) Mars vs. (7) Freeport – 6:30, Thursday, BladeRunners Warrendale

(4) Kittanning vs. (5) Serra Catholic – 7:30, Thursday, Belmont Complex

(3) Hampton vs. (6) Westmont Hilltop – 7:50, Thursday, Ice Connection of Pittsburgh

(1) Quaker Valley vs. (9) Thomas Jefferson – 8:30, Thursday, Airport Ice Arena


Freeport is the kind of team that can cause problems for Mars if the three-time Penguins Cup champs aren’t careful. The Yellowjackets have gotten terrific goaltending and tend to outwork opponents. Knowing the Planets, however, their raw skill and chemistry is rivaled by few, so I could see that game turning into a mercy-rule affair if Freeport isn’t careful.

Serra Catholic, for a varsity program that isn’t voluminous, is pretty darn good. Brian Boehm and his staff have done an outstanding job with limited depth. Kittanning had a number of players, including goaltender Cameron Langham, miss the beginning of the year due to a suspension stemming from the 2011 Penguins Cup Semifinals, but the Wildcats have their legs under them, and they have Heinz Koster, the scoring champion. The Eagles don’t have a lot of wins against the upper-crust teams in Class A, so this’ll be a tough road test for them.

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Hampton and Westmont Hilltop will play their guts out, if history is any guide. Those two have had quite a battle going this season. The Hilltoppers forged a tie the last time they played in Valencia…

…but the Talbots got even on their trip to the War Memorial:

Pine-Richland has matured this season in terms of its defensive play, aided by goaltender Chase Takacs, and Canevin has struggled offensively down the stretch. Still, the Crusaders have as much raw talent as any team in that bracket, though the Rams have already given them something to think about:

Latrobe is an underdog only in the sense that the Wildcats carry a lower seed into this year’s tournament. It’s a younger team than the ones that hoisted three straight Pennsylvania Cups (to say nothing of their three Penguins Cups in a row), but remember: Latrobe is less than two calendar years removed from that success. That is a well-peopled and well-coached squad. The young talent at Prep is also coming along nicely, but as I’ve said before, let’s see how the Ramblers handle this unfamiliar spotlight.

Last time Chartiers Valley met Plum, Justin Sabilla, the Class AA scoring champion, entered beast mode:

Last time West Allegheny met Moon, history was made in that contest too:

I expect more big things from Sabilla and Levitt Thursday.

It’s fun and easy to pick Bethel Park to stymie North Allegheny. But Jim Black is one of the best teachers of defense in the PIHL, and is just as tactful as his veteran counterpart, Jim McVay. Besides, the Hawks quieted BladeRunners Warrendale just not long ago:

I expect another low-scoring game…a real chess match. I’m taking the Hawks just because of their hot streak, but NA’s improvement up front makes this almost too close to call, especially with Bethel netminder Alex Blum coming off a modest game. I wouldn’t blame you if you flipped a coin.

Penn-Trafford could very easily be this year’s Fox Chapel–the team that, suddenly, takes the world by storm during the regular season, but develops an allergy to success in the playoffs. Then again, the Warriors, with their unique senior leadership on offense, could overwhelm the competition.

How good are they? They don’t go to Evgeni Malkin’s games…Evgeni Malkin comes to their games.

No, seriously, Geno was at Jay’s Restaurant back on Feb. 27 to witness Penn-Trafford earn the top seed in the Class AAA tournament:

State College, which always plays well in its own zone, is going to be very confident (as well they should be) after winning at Ice Castle, but what makes Penn-Trafford great is that they’ve done what a section champ and number one seed should do: take care of business within your section. I say the Warriors go 3-for-3.

For what it’s worth, commissioner Ed Sam couldn’t have picked a better game to open the quarterfinals. Mount Lebanon and Peters Township are two very talented teams, tradition-rich programs, and passionate fan bases. Lebo will be as loud as can be this evening, I’m sure. Such dynamic forwards as Taylor Cox (Indians) and Trevor Nelson (Blue Devils) make this one difficult to call as well, but I’ll give the edge to Peters on account of having a bit more experience in goal.

(All videos courtesy of PIHL Network/Rubino Productions.)

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