Sizing up the PIHL Varsity AAA playoffs

Russell Finelsen, Staff Writer, Assistant Editor, Sports Editor

Even though the regular season has ended for BP’s varsity hockey squad, the playoffs are just around the corner. As a number three seed, BP is looking good to get past the first round and possibly the semifinals. But, I wanted to expand the view on the bracket, and see who else wins and loses in each round of the playoffs.

The bracket was released on February 28, and it is full of title contenders. Each team has a good shot, so I went down the line to see who would win each game. But first, a look at the bracket.

 

Picture1

 

Now, even though it might look threatening, I have BP advancing into the semifinals. Here is my finished bracket, and my explanations afterwards.

 

Picture2

 

First Round:

In the first match of the Varsity AAA Playoffs for the Penguin Cup, it looks pretty good for North Allegheny (16-2-4). Facing eighth seeded Central Catholic should be an easy task for #1 NA. They beat Central Catholic in both games in the regular season by a combined score of 7-3.  In addition, NA has four players with over 20 points, eight players with over 10 points, and three players with over 10 goals. Furthermore, NA has two great goalies in their arsenal, Joseph Hubert and Douglas Wild, who both have a save percentage above 90%. Meanwhile, it does not look good for Central Catholic (8-12-2), who barely made it into the playoffs after a win over State College. They are the only team in the playoffs that have allowed more goals than they have scored. In addition, they had the second most penalty minutes in the league. Also, their starting goalie, Kevin Dziubek, has a save percentage nearing 85%, and the team has had to rely on backup Nate Cava. Final result: 4-1, NA.

The next match will pit Canon McMillan (14-7-1) against Seneca Valley (13-9-0) in what looks like the closest quarterfinal match in the playoffs. They split the regular season series, 1-1. Though both teams have roughly allowed the same amount of goals, Canon McMillan has scored 41 more goals than Seneca Valley. Canon Mac is led by star forward Austin Tonkovich, who has 21 goals, 14 assists, and 35 points, which is second in the league. And, his running partner, Jack Clendaniel, has 34 points and 27 assists this season. However, forwards Colman Slain and Zachary Mansmann have been suspended indefinitely, and they have 49 points combined this season. This may hurt them in the playoffs. Another worrying point is their backup goalies. Starter Conor Harnett has a 90.1% save percentage, while backups Michael Trossman and Eric Podlaszewski have a combined 86.1% save percentage. This could also be a problem against a potent State College offense, who is led by Alexander Crilley. Crilley leads the team in goals (16), assists (15), and points (31). However, the team has relied on forward Parker Faix in clutch situations, as he has four game winning goals. In addition, starting goalie Alyssa Peterson has a .500 record at 9-9. It will be a close one. Final result: Canon Mac, 4-3.

The third game in the first round will be BP (14-6-2) against Butler (11-8-3). Both teams each won a game against each other in the regular season. However, BP has 31 more goals scored than allowed; Butler has 14. BP’s offense is led by Louie McLinden and Andrew Bello. McLinden has 14 assists and 14 goals this season to lead the team. Bello, after a slow start to the season, has had a great second half, and finished the regular season with ten goals and 15 assists. In addition, BP’s goalie, William Lowe III, has been a beast this season. He has played every period but one, while only allowing 2.01 goals per game and maintaining a 90.5% save percentage and . Butler’s goalie situation, though, is the exact opposite. Starting goalie Clay Bachman has a 90.9% save percentage while allowing almost three goals per game. On the other hand, backups Jacob Curry and Zach Schnur has each allowed over 5.5 goals per game this season; they have played 170 combined minutes this season. Therefore, Butler will have to rely on its offense to try and win this game. This offense is led by Dustin Davis and Connor Scott, who each have at least 30 points this season. But, do they really have a chance against BP, the least penalized team in the league? No, especially when Garet Banner, who only played one game this season, has scored more goals per game than all but four players on the team. Final result: BP outlasts Butler, 5-3.

In the final game of the first round, Peters Twp (16-4-2) might have a rough time against #7 Upper St. Clair (10-11-1). Even though Peters won both match-ups in the regular season, USC has an upset in mind. They are led by superstar forward Austin Cassidy, who leads the league in goals (30), points (48), and is second overall with 17 assists. In addition, there is dual threat defenseman Kasey Colcombe. He is stellar on defense with stopping scoring drives, while scoring six goals and 16 assists for his own cause. However, USC’s problem is guarding the net. Both goalies, Adam Seeton and Jonathan Bleier, have save percentages under 87%. In addition, both players have allowed more than 3 goals on average per game. Another problem: if Cassidy gets hurt, USC is basically deflated. In the meantime, Peters has very balanced scoring. Forwards Brady Cochrane, San Barnes, and Adam Alavi all have at least 20 points and 11 assists each. Also, multi-tooled defenseman Zachery Gielarowski is a beast on the ice. On defense, he is spectacular at limiting goals. On offense, he leads the team with 13 goals, 18 assists, and 31 points. In addition, Peters has something that USC does not: a good goalie. Goalie Tony Lejeune has shaken off a slow start to become one of the best goalies in the league, with a 90.5% save percentage and only 32 goals allowed this season. I think USC’s upset thoughts will come short. Final result: Peters wins, 3-1.

Now, we go on to the semifinals. Here, anything can happen, and one game might come close to an upset.

Semifinals:

North Allegheny and Canon McMillan will be up first to try and earn a trip to the finals. Both teams won one out of two games against each other in the regular season. And, both of these teams are pretty even. Even though Canon Mac allowed 16 more goals this season than NA, Canon Mac scored 14 more goals. Even though NA has two great goalies in Hubert and Wild, they have struggled against slap shots. In addition, the team only has three players with at least 26 points. Furthermore, NA has only lost two games. One of those losses, though, was to Pine Richland, the third worst team in the league. Meanwhile, Canon Mac excels in slap shot goals, and have four players that have at least 27 points. Even though Slain, who is suspended, has 26 points this season, the rest of the team has picked up the slack. Canon Mac will ride on Tonkovich and Clendaniel, who have the second and third most points in the league, respectively. Furthermore, all of Canon Mac’s losses are against teams that are currently in the playoffs. If Canon Mac’s starting goalie Harnett can do well in this game, Canon Mac should give NA a scare. But, NA is ranked number 1 in the state, and they will not go away easily. Final result: NA outlasts Canon Mac, 5-4 OT.

In the second and final semifinal match of the Varsity AAA playoffs, it will pit Peters Twp against BP. This match-up should seem familiar, as the two teams played on February 20. However, Peters won, and also claimed victory in the first game between the two teams this season. In each of these games, BP has been unable to eclipse three goals, and Peters has scored three goals in each game. This is unusual, especially with rising phenomenon Bello, who has been great as of late. However, McLinden has been quiet of late, and he did not score versus Peters on the 20th. He also did not score in the season finale, and only got 12 penalty minutes. This could be troubling for BP, who will need all the goals they can get against a great Peters Twp defense. Lejeune and Gielarowski have been doing great on the defensive side of the puck. Meanwhile, Cochrane, Alavi, and Barnes have showed why they have been feared as the offensive “Three Musketeers.” I think BP will get three goals. However, Peters will score four. Final result: Peters 4, BP 3.

And then, there were two. North Allegheny versus Peters Twp in the finals, which proved to be the most difficult for me to decide who would win such a contested game.

Finals:

At Consol Energy Center in front of thousands of fans, Peters Twp will try to defend its Penguins Cup championship from the 2013-2014 season. And, I think they have a pretty good chance to upset #1 North Allegheny. Even though North Allegheny is ranked first in the state, Peters was only two points behind NA in the standings by the end of the season. I think a big sticking point in this game will not be defense, but offense. Both of these teams have great goalies, and have either allowed 43 or 44 goals this season. However, Peters has scored 10 more goals than NA this season. And, even though NA won the first meeting and got a tie in the second match-up, I think the tide is turning in Peters Twp’s favor. If Peters can limit their penalty minutes, I will say this will be the first, last, and only upset in the playoffs. Final result: Peters Twp defends their Penguins Cup, and adds another trophy to their trophy room, all while ousting NA from #1. Peters wins, 6-4.