Quaker Valley hockey team pledges focus in postseason
Kevin Quinn knows from experience that an undefeated regular season doesn't guarantee a championship.
In 2006-07, his Quaker Valley hockey team — fresh off Penguins Cup and Pennsylvania Cup championships the year before — finished the regular season undefeated and beat their first two playoff opponents by a combined 11-0 score.
That team's run ended with a 4-1 loss to Freeport in the Penguins Cup championship game at Mellon Arena. This year's version — also the defending PIHL and state champions — will try to avoid the same fate.
“I've talked about it, but none of those kids played on that team,” Quinn said. “For them, they just need to go about their business and know that in a one-game format, you can't just come out and expect to win. I think they're fully aware of that.”
Quaker Valley (22-0) will open the playoffs with a game at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Airport Ice Arena. The top-seeded Quakers were scheduled to face No. 8 Deer Lakes, No. 9 South Park or No. 10 South Fayette, depending on the results of first-round action Monday night.
As an undefeated team and the defending champion, Quaker Valley enters the postseason with a target on its back — but that's nothing new.
“We've had this for the whole season,” junior Otto Schaefer said. “Everyone knew this whole month would come from the start of the season. We've had eyes on us since we beat them last year.”
The proclivity of social media adds even more eyes, as Schaefer said he and the other Quaker Valley players deal with trash talk from opposing players and fans on Twitter and other sites.
“It's kind of a compliment to me,” Schaefer said. “It gives me more of a passion. It's like, ‘Wow, they're kind of admiring us in a way.' But it's great to be in the spot.”
The Quakers' most recent Penguins Cup title before last season came in 2008, when they beat Mars in the final. In the next three seasons, the Quakers failed to reach the finals, falling twice in the quarterfinals and once in the semifinals as Mars won the championship all three seasons.
Mars' run ended last year. Quaker Valley beat Thomas Jefferson, 6-3, in the quarterfinals, Kittanning, 7-1, in the semifinals and clinched the Penguins Cup championship with a 4-2 win over Mars at Consol Energy Center. The Quakers followed that by beating West Chester Rustin, 4-1, to take home the state title.
“Knowing how to win is vitally important come playoff time,” Quinn said. “A lot of teams, if they haven't been there, emotions can get the best of them — (they can) lose focus and things like that. For us, it's important we play with the valued experiences we have.”
Schaefer said he expects a spirited challenge from Mars as the Quakers attempt to win their second straight championship. The Planets (17-3-1) enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed as they look to avenge last season's loss and two from earlier this season.
“I feel that Mars has a great passion for us,” Schaefer said.
But from his experience in 2007, Quinn knows any underdog can win in a one-game format. The Quakers nearly experienced that during this regular season, enduring closer-than-expected games against the likes of sixth-seeded Kittanning and seventh-seeded Serra Catholic before ultimately coming through with victories.
Knowing that, Quinn said his team can't afford to overlook anyone lest history repeat itself.
“The (No. 2) seed, all the way through the eighth seed, all of those teams have had measures of success this year,” Quinn said. “They all have good offensive teams. Some have great goalies, some have good defensive systems. They all have their strengths, and they all are more than capable of winning any game they play. So that's even more reason for our team to be focused.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.