PIHL Penguins Cup favorites share defensive mentality
It's arguable, in some corners, that top seeds Peters Township, Bishop Canevin and Quaker Valley are the undisputed best teams in their respective PIHL classifications.
What's not is that the Indians (Class AAA), Crusaders (Class AA) and Quakers (Class A) enter the postseason as the hottest.
And that no one is playing better defense in recent weeks, either.
Peters Township enters the Penguins Cup playoffs that begin Monday on a 13-game winning streak, and Bishop Canevin on a 10-game run. Quaker Valley trumps both — the Quakers finished the regular season 22-0 and have won 30 in a row dating to last year. Quaker Valley is unbeaten in its past 43 games, having most recently lost Nov. 3, 2011.
A common theme among these streaking No. 1 seeds? Sparkling goals-against averages. Quaker Valley (0.95) and Bishop Canevin (1.89) each lead its respective enrollment classification in that category.
Peters Township ranked third in Class AAA (2.38) — but that number drops to 2.00 for the Indians during their win streak, which began Dec. 17.
The Quakers, Crusaders and Indians haven't won a Penguins Cup champion yet — but the defense they displayed during the regular season has put each in the best position to make a run at one. In the PIHL playoffs, the highest-seeded team faces the lowest remaining seed in each round.
“It's no secret the math that the fewer you give up, the better chance you have at winning the game,” Bishop Canevin coach Kevin Zielmanski said.
“Early on, it was (goalie Nikita Meskin) making some key saves while we were allowing opportunities, but one of the reasons our goals-against is so low is we have a lot of offensive zone puck possession. That helps to keep shots on goal down. We really try to manage the puck well enough that we're not allowing quality chances, and I think we've done a better job in the second half of the season.”
Each No. 1 seed is blessed with quality goaltending — Quaker Valley's Jonathan Pijar and Parker Sherry, Bishop Canevin's Meskin and Ryan Tucker, and Peters Township's Brian Baker.
“We talk about it all the time,” Peters Township coach Rick Tingle said. “It's not just a goal scored against a goalie and not just against a defense. It's not even just what happened in defensive zone — it's all the things that led back in the flow of hockey. It's a matter of just being conscious of that all the time.”
PIHL first-round games are Monday and Tuesday, with two quarterfinals in each class Wednesday and Thursday.
Higher-seeded teams host games in the first two rounds, but the semifinals are next week at the RMU Island Sports Center. A championship tripleheader is scheduled for March 20 at Consol Energy Center.
Should any or all of the No. 1 seeds play that day on the Penguins' home ice, it probably won't come as much of a surprise. The three teams combined for two Penguins Cups, two Pennsylvania Cup state championships and four appearances in the Penguins Cup title games over the previous two seasons.
Quaker Valley is the defending state champion, Bishop Canevin won the 2011 state title and Peters Township has played in a Penguins Cup final in each of the two years since the games were moved to Consol.
“We feel happy with how we're playing and confident — but the key is not being overconfident,” Quakers coach Kevin Quinn said. “And know that any given night as a group, you've got to be good in all areas.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.