Postseason experience key for veteran Quaker Valley hockey
Sometimes the only thing separating a team from an extended postseason run and going home earlier is playoff experience.
And when it comes to postseason experience, very few teams have the veteran presence of the Quaker Valley hockey team. The Quakers have gone 7-1 over the last two postseasons while winning a pair of Penguins Cups and a state title.
“With so many seniors this year and players that have playoff experience, there should not be a lot nervousness,” senior defenseman Ryan Lottes said. “We should come out ready to play playoff hockey. There should be no surprises.”
Quaker Valley entered the Class A Penguins Cup playoffs riding a 15-game win streak. After a 4-3 loss to Mars on Nov. 26 — the Quakers' first PIHL loss in two years — the team rebounded in impressive fashion.
Quaker Valley wrapped up the regular season with wins over Freeport (5-4) and South Fayette (10-3) to finish 21-1.
“Everything has been a lit more sharp toward the end of the season,” senior defenseman Alex Quinn said. “At the beginning of the season, we were winning but different stuff was happening. We weren't playing as good as we could.
“But we kept working and our skills have gotten a lot better.”
In additions to their experience, the Quakers' blend of a strong offense and stifling defense will help it in the trek for a third straight Class A Penguins Cup.
The defense has been the calling card of the team this season. The team gave up only 41 goals this season — best in Class A, besting Westmont Hilltop's 47 and Freeport's 54.
The defense was boosted by the return of Alex Quinn and Lottes, who helped the Quakers win the Penguins Cup last season. But the depth of talent has improved with the emergence of sophomores Jacob Kuzma and Jack Woodburn, and freshmen Peter Hall and Owen Harkins.
“The biggest thing on defense is the returning guys have done what they were supposed to and we had some young guys come in and follow the system,” Quaker Valley coach Kevin Quinn said. “We have a nice, deep defensive core. That will be the biggest returning group we have next season.”
The defense has also been boosted by the play of goalie Parker Sherry. The junior finished the regular season with a save percentage of 91.8 and a 1.88 goals against average.
But as strong as the defense has been, Kevin Quinn believes it could be better. Entering the playoffs in 2013, the Quaker had given up 20 less goals.
“In some of the games, we have fallen asleep in the third period and allowed teams to score some goals,” the veteran coach said. “We gave up 21 goals last year compared to 41 this season. Something is different. We need to tighten up because if you play defensively sound, it wins championships.”
As strong as the defense has been, the offense has been as powerful. The Quakers scored 149 goals this season — besting rival Mars' 141.
The duo of Jimmy Perkins and Connor Quinn has lit up goalies throughout the season. Perkins finished as the scoring leader of Class A with 43 goals and 29 assists. Connor Quinn was close behind with 33 goals and 37 assists.
Their point totals shadowed everyone else in Class A — Freeport's Cole Hepler finished third in the regular season point standings with 54.
“It has been incredible because a lot of times statistics are skewed based upon getting a lot of points against weaker teams,” Kevin Quinn said. “But they have scored against the best teams and played their best hockey in those games.”
It is the blend of offense and defense that has the Quakers feeling good about their chances. And with the depth of talent in the Class A playoffs this season, Quaker Valley will need to be ready to play at both ends of the ice.
“If you have a strong defense and a strong goalie, you have a chance in any game,” Perkins said. “Then, having guys who can put the puck in the net, you can play any team and have a chance to win.”
The field of teams in the Class A playoffs may be the strongest seen in sometime. Mars (34 points), Thomas Jefferson (32), Freeport (30) and Westmont Hilltop (29) all showed the ability to win big games during the regular season.
And while the Quakers will be the favorite to win the Penguins Cup as the top seed, it will be a battle in every game along the way.
“The top six teams did a great job of competing with each other,” Kevin Quinn said. “In the past, the top three or four seeds were guaranteed a spot in the semifinals, but this year is different.”