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Area's mighty high school hockey teams try not to pile on

| Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, 11:34 p.m.
Ford City's Robert Kinsey stretches before the start of the third period during a game against Altoona Thursday at the Belmont Complex. The Sabers led, 7-0, after two periods and ultimately won, 9-1, a mercy-rule victory.

The night Ford City's hockey team thumped Ringgold, 20-0, in a PIHL Open Class matchup, Sabers coach Glen Kilgore faced accusations that he intentionally let his players pile up the goals.

The suggestion irked Kilgore, who denied the charges he heard Dec. 3 at Rostraver Ice Garden. He believed he did his part to slow the onslaught by moving starters to unfamiliar positions and encouraging non-scorers to handle the puck.

Kilgore wished his team had a way to avoid such games.

Lopsided high school hockey games hardly benefit the teams involved. Tension between teams rises, and as high-scoring programs such as Ford City (6-1-1) and Kittanning (4-2-1) can attest, mercy rules go only so far in limiting the losers' humiliation.

“I've talked to other coaches around here and in Pittsburgh, and I've asked what's more embarrassing, beating a team, 20-0, or beating them, 5-0, and playing keep-away?” Kilgore said. “We could've played keep-away, but that embarrasses a team even more, I think.”

Thirteen years ago, the PIHL introduced its current mercy rules, which affect the game clock when a team leads by seven goals and then when the margin grows to 10.

When a team leads by seven goals, the clock will stop only if a goal is scored, a penalty is called, the puck leaves the playing area or officials stop play for an injury.

When the margin grows to 10, the clock does not stop for any reason. The continuous running clock is called off only after the goal differential is reduced to less than seven.

Although the rules expedite games, they require full, 51-minute contests.

Kilgore endorses a different mercy rule, one he encountered when Ford City began attending the Brother James Memorial Tournament a few years ago in suburban Cleveland: If a team leads by 11 after two periods, the game ends without a third.

“They know the third period is when all the stupid stuff happens,” said Kilgore, whose Sabers have won six games by at least seven goals.

While Kittanning coach Jamie King does not demand mercy rule revisions, he wouldn't object to experimentation.

“Once you get way ahead, in our minds, nothing good happens,” said King, whose Wildcats have won three of their seven Class A games by at least seven goals.

“We say, ‘Hey guys, we don't want anybody going coast to coast or scoring any type of selfish type goals.' We want to move the puck around. We've never really said, ‘Hey, don't score.' But I think our kids have the mindset that they want to get everybody ice time and maybe get some of our younger kids points, if they haven't had any.”

The PIHL's board of governors has reviewed the mercy rules, commissioner Ed Sam said, but no changes followed. An idea that gained support but ultimately stalled: Don't show the blowout results on the PIHL's Pointstreak website scoreboard.

“It's not easy to put that score up there,” Sam said. “You don't like to see it happen.”

The PIHL keeps track of mercy-rule wins. If necessary, Sam said, the PIHL will contact a coach about an alarmingly lopsided result.

“If it continues, there can be sanctions against the coach,” Sam said. “But it usually does not get to that point.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303.

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