High school hockey teams to kick off season at St. Margaret's Foundation Fall Faceoff
Originally scheduled for Thursday, the opening of the NHL season has been delayed by the lockout.
The unofficial start of the PIHL season this week, however, will go forward as planned.
While the high school hockey regular season won't begin for another three weeks, 20 local teams will be playing formal games beginning Monday. In what has grown into a tradition over the past two decades, the St. Margaret's Foundation Fall Faceoff preseason tournament fills a niche for fans of early-season high school hockey.
“A lot of us have been skating and practicing,” Pine-Richland coach Mike Bagnato said. “But we're all kind of itching to play.”
A record number of teams for the event, which began in 1994, were split into five four-team pools. Round-robin play commences at BladeRunners Harmarville over the next four days and Oct. 14, with six games each evening. The quarterfinals are scheduled for Oct. 15 at BladeRunners Warrendale, with the semifinals and final the following day in Harmarville.
The St. Margaret's Fall Faceoff has evolved from an eight-team invitation-only tournament of squads almost exclusively from the North Hills into an event the PIHL sanctions and has opened to teams from across the region.
The event benefits the St. Margaret Foundation Bed Fund. According to the website for the St. Margaret Foundation — which operates autonomously of UPMC — the Bed Fund “serves people who have little to no health insurance. It helps uninsured and underinsured patients at UPMC St. Margaret and its three Family Health Centers with transportation, medication, insulin, immunizations lodging and more.”
PIHL officials work the tournament for free, donating their services to help raise money for the foundation.
“Since we've been running this event, it's grown, and it not only gives teams an opportunity to look at players to see where they may fit in their organization, it also raises money for the St. Margaret's Foundation through the generosity of many,” PIHL commissioner Ed Sam said.
Although there is no formal requirement or mission that varsity teams taking part in the tournament are the best in the PIHL, the champions from each of the league's three classifications last season are in the Fall Faceoff — Bethel Park, West Allegheny and Quaker Valley.
In all, 10 of last season's 12 section champions are participating.
“It'll be a good test for us,” North Allegheny coach Jim Black said. “I know my kids are interested in getting on the ice to play some games. They're tired of practicing already — they want to play some games.”
Unlike the WPIAL, for example, the PIHL regular-season schedule does not allow for inter-classification games. In the Fall Faceoff, teams from different classifications play each other.
“One of the nice things about it is you play teams you don't normally play,” Bagnato said.
Bagnato's Pine-Richland team is in a pool, Bracket A, that offers some of the more intriguing matchups. The pool includes traditional powers from Class AAA (Bethel Park, North Allegheny), Class AA (Pine-Richland) and Class A (Kittanning).
Defending St. Margaret Fall Faceoff champion Bishop Canevin, a Class AA team, is in a pool with defending Penguins Cup Class A champion Quaker Valley and two teams from Class AAA schools.
Last season, the Crusaders beat Canon-McMillan in overtime in the championship game. At the time, Bishop Canevin was six months removed from winning the Class AA Penguins Cup on the same day the Big Macs were Class AAA finalists.
“It's a nice way to see where your team is in games against some good teams and what players are stepping up,” Bishop Canevin coach Kevin Zielmanski said. “The kids are excited to play against some good programs, and it benefits a good cause.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.