Three from Norwin, one from Penn-Trafford team up as all-stars
For one day, high school rivals got a chance to be teammates.
Norwin senior Dan Merz, Norwin juniors Tim Palmer and Eli Reith, and Penn-Trafford junior Jake Miller all suited up in the same blue sweaters for the Northeast Conference team in the PIHL Class AAA All-Star Game at the RMU Island Sports Center on Sunday.
Though the Northeast Conference team fell, 10-1, the game was a chance for the top players from those two schools to pair up with players from Hempfield, State College, Butler, Shaler and Central Catholic in the final match of a four-game showcase of high school hockey's best.
For Merz, it was his first all-star game after he had to withdraw from last year's contest. Reith and Miller also were playing in their first all-star game, while Palmer was in his second after being the lone Norwin representative in 2012.
“It was a lot of fun. Playing against some of those guys, you don't really get to know them,” Merz said. “When you get on the same team, you get to know them and realize they aren't so bad.”
Though the game ended with a lopsided result for the Southwest team, the local players combined to produce the Northeast's top highlight.
After the Southwest took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Bethel Park's Ryan Kusmira, Palmer tied the game with his first all-star goal with assists from his two forward linemates for the contest, Miller and Merz.
That those three would combine to light the lamp should have come as no surprise. Not only are Merz and Palmer teammates with Norwin, but all three players are amateur teammates with the Westmoreland Eagles.
“We're good friends with Jake because he plays with us for Westmoreland,” Merz said. “It worked out well for us here that we got to play together.”
“Playing amateurs, I've played with Dan, and I'm on a line with Timmy, so we seem to play together pretty well,” Miller said.
“We don't always get along when we play against each other, but when we're together, we play pretty good.”
Mt. Lebanon's Nick Honkala scored what would be the eventual game-winning goal in the first period, but the Northeast team only trailed 2-1 at the end of the period.
Bethel Park's Christian Slak scored a natural hat trick in the second period to blow the game open, while Seneca Valley's Chris Marizotto also finished with three goals for the Southwest team.
“It was a good experience,” Miller said. “It was a rough game, but hopefully, I can be back here next year, and we can be on the other side of it.
“Everybody in the locker room was real cool, and it was a lot of fun. There was no fighting or anything. We all had a great time.”
As juniors, Miller, Reith and Palmer all will have the chance to return for next year's all-star game, while Merz, as the only local senior, was happy to take finally part in the all-star experience after missing out last year.
“It was a lot of fun. Being out there with everyone that was selected, it's an honor,” Merz said.
“I walked into the locker room today, and one of the guys (State College's Andrew Ebert) told me it was nice to see me on his side one time instead of having to defend me. It was a good time.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.