North Allegheny, Bethel Park ready to renew ice rivalry
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The North Allegheny and Bethel Park hockey teams are close — in ability level and off the ice.
When the No. 2 seed Black Hawks (17-5) play the No. 3 Tigers (16-4-2) in the second of two PIHL Penguins Cup Class AAA semifinals 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at the RMU Island Sports Center, it will be the sixth time over the past calendar year they will meet.
The Tigers and Black Hawks have reached overtime in the five most recent meetings.
“Every time we play them, we know it's going to be a great hockey game,” Bethel Park coach Jim McVay said.
McVay would know — he coaches a South Hills Amateur Hockey Association Midget U18 AA team that has North Allegheny standouts Cody Black, Charles Johnson and Harry Kramer on its roster. Tigers coach Jim Black is one of McVay's assistants.
Five Bethel Park players are on the SHAHA team, leading to the potentially awkward situation of having many of the better Black Hawks and Tigers cohabitating much of this past weekend (for the state Tier II tournament) just days before an intensely contested showdown with a trip to Consol Energy Center for the championship game on the line.
“My son (Cody) spent the majority of the day at (Bethel Park captain) Derek Lesnak's house,” Jim Black said Friday. “They're good friends and at this point playing on the same team together. But when the puck drops (Wednesday), you put that aside. They both have the same goals in mind — they want to win.”
Lesnak's Black Hawks beat Black's Tigers in triple overtime of a quarterfinal last season, beginning Bethel Park's run to its seventh Penguins Cup.
The teams also played an overtime game 2 1⁄2 weeks ago, with Bethel Park winning the regular-season finale, 5-4.
The other Class AAA semifinal, scheduled for a 5:45 p.m. faceoff Wednesday, is No. 1 Peters Township (18-4) against No. 5 State College (16-7). The Indians are trying to advance to a Penguins Cup title game for the third consecutive year.
Another rematch from a quarterfinal last season in this season's semifinals is in Class AA. No. 1 Bishop Canevin (17-1-2) will face No. 4 Pine-Richland (15-4-1) 7 p.m. Tuesday almost a year to the day since the Rams beat the then-defending state champion Crusaders, 5-1.
Bishop Canevin won the lone meeting during this regular season, 2-1 — but that was more than four months ago in the season opener Oct. 29.
“That was one of the better games I've been involved in,” Rams coach Mike Bagnato said. “Both teams played very well, both goalies played well. We had shots, and it was very close.”
The nightcap Tuesday is No. 2 Latrobe (17-3) against No. 3 Chartiers Valley (15-4-1) at 9 p.m. The Wildcats are trying to reach a Penguins Cup final for the first time since winning three consecutive state championships from 2008-10.
Defending state champion Quaker Valley made it through 20 games this season largely untested. When the Quakers were finally pushed to the limit, it was semifinal opponent Kittanning doing the testing.
No. 1 Quaker Valley (23-0) was winning games by an average of 7.4 goals before the No. 6 Wildcats (14-8-1) forced overtime Feb. 22. Quaker Valley would prevail, 3-2 — and beat Kittanning again, 5-2, six days later. But those games accounted for two of the five times all season an opponent kept within three goals of the Quakers.
If anyone knows Quaker Valley isn't invincible, it's Kittanning.
“Obviously, they're good,” Wildcats coach Jamie King said of Quaker Valley. “They're just talented, they're deep and they roll three lines, just keep rolling players at you. They really just don't have any weaknesses — that's probably they're biggest strength.”
Two hours before the Quakers and Wildcats face off on Neville Island 8 p.m. Monday, No. 2 Mars (18-3-1) will play No. 4 Westmont Hilltop (15-7-1) for the right to advance to its sixth consecutive Penguins Cup championship game.
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.
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