Planets make statement with win
Early in the PIHL season, the Mars hockey team proved it is one of the best teams in Class A once again.
Annually, the Planets are among contenders for the Penguins Cup championship. They've played for the past six titles and won three. Their thrilling 4-3 win over Quaker Valley on Nov. 26 showed they are among the favorites to return to Consol Energy Center again this season.
Mars, 5-1 in PIHL play, rallied from a two-goal deficit against the Quakers and won the game on Paul Maust's breakaway goal with 1:40 left in regulation.
“It was a huge win for us,” said Mars forward Nick Makozy, who leads the team with seven goals and 13 points. “We were really excited.”
The victory snapped the Planets' five-game losing streak to their rivals. It ended Quaker Valley's 51-game unbeaten streak against PIHL competition, too. The Quakers' last league loss came Nov. 3, 2011, against Mars, also a 4-3 decision. And the Planets triumphed this time with a limited roster as Ian Houk-Graves, Trevor Tisdale and Noah Master did not dress for the game.
“We came together nicely. We ran a short bench for a lot of that game,” Mars coach Steve Meyers said. “After three years, we caught onto what they do, and we had a nice game plan. We got some good goaltending and nice breaks and were able to pull it out at the end.”
Quaker Valley jumped to a 2-0 lead on a pair of goals from Jimmy Perkins. However, Makozy responded with two goals, the second coming with 35 seconds remaining in the period.
“It was a slow start. ... For whatever reason, the last couple years we've been in awe of them. Guys were caught watching and reacting. The guys had some butterflies and took some penalties early and (Quaker Valley) capitalized on them. You just can't leave a guy like Jimmy alone,” Meyers said. “We got a nice power-play goal from Nick and he had a carbon copy of it later.
“Once it became 2-2, it elevated the mood of the boys, and we thought we could play with them. Then, we focused on Perkins and tried to get a body on him every time he touched the puck.”
Kyle Thomas put Mars ahead, 3-2, with 5:12 left in the second period, but the Quakers responded with Connor Quinn's goal 52 seconds later.
“The third goal was a bad break. We had a turnover and Connor Quinn scored on a nice backhand. The boys knew it was kind of a fluky play. We had carried the play for a lot of that period and nobody got down,” Meyers said. “In past years, we probably would have panicked after that. Some guys are getting older and realized those things happen and you can't just panic. I think experience really kicked in with the young guys there.”
Maust, a freshman, provided the winner, slipping free for a breakaway for his first PIHL goal.
“He was playing lights-out all night,” Meyers said. “I think he blocked a shot and took off and got a nice pass. You have to be happy for him.”
The Planets are in the midst of almost a two-week break. They return to the ice Tuesday against Serra Catholic. Then, they play five games in a 10-day span before a holiday break.
“It'll be tough. We're on the ice twice a week (for practice) and most of the kids are in the gym every day working out. It'll be tough getting back into that mindset, though,” Makozy said. “I love (having so many games in such a short time), personally. Anytime I can get on the ice, I'll take it.”
Mars hopes to continue its strong play. After falling to Thomas Jefferson, 6-2, to open PIHL play, the Planets have won their past five.
“(Beating Quaker Valley) just proves how close Single-A is this year. Nobody is going to run away with things, I don't think. We watch the scoreboards and standings and seeding is important, but not getting the top seed is not the end of the world,” Meyers said. “We just try to get better every game. Some of our young guys are still learning where to be in certain situations. We can't worry about bad breaks and bounces. If we're doing the right things, more often than not, we'll be successful.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.