With only four seniors on the roster, this season was expected to be more of a rebuilding year for Peters Township.
"We have a young team and I don't think there were very high expectations," Peters Township coach Rick Tingle said.
The team lost its first two games and was 4-4 after eight games, so it seemed as though the lower expectations for the defending Class AAA Penguins Cup runner-up were justified.
But more than two months later, the Indians are the favorites to go back to Consol Energy Center.
Peters Township (17-4) will enter its Class AAA Penguins Cup quarterfinal game as the No. 1 seed after winning each of its past 13 games.
The streak is the longest this season in Class AAA and started with a 5-2 victory against Canon-McMillan on Dec. 17. During the streak, the Indians have swept the sixth-seeded Macs and No. 2 Bethel Park. Peters also won games during the run against No. 4 Seneca Valley, No. 7 Upper St. Clair, No. 9 Central Catholic, No. 11 Butler and No. 12 Mt. Lebanon.
Earlier this season, the Indians also beat No. 5 State College and split with No. 3 North Allegheny.
"I definitely think we [have a target on our backs]," Indians senior Trevor Recktenwald said. "A few teams, especially a rival like Canon-Mac, lost to us twice. I think those teams are definitely looking to get back at us and beat us."
But Peters Township also enters the playoffs with a chip on its shoulder. The Indians lost in the Class AA title game in 2011 to Bishop Canevin, 5-2.
Then last March in its first season in Class AAA, Peters Township was tied with Bethel Park, 1-1, with less than two minutes remaining in the Penguins Cup final when the Black Hawks scored the winning goal.
"I think that's definitely sitting in the back of their minds," Tingle said. "The best way to erase that feeling is to win."
While Peters is the favorite, there are numerous teams talented enough to win it. Last season, Peters Township entered the playoffs as the No. 5 seed and Bethel Park was the No. 6 and Tingle said he thinks the tournament is just as wide open this season.
"I think there are five or six teams, that if they are playing on all cylinders, could win it," Tingle said.
Recktenwald, who finished second in Class AAA with 67 points, said Bethel Park and North Allegheny are right up there with the Indians among the favorites.
"North Allegheny is right up there," Recktenwald said. "They beat us once and we beat them once. Bethel Park is up there, too. They always have a good defensive system. But North Allegheny is the toughest team we played this season."
Not surprisingly, North Allegheny, Bethel Park and Peters Township finished 1-2-3 in goals allowed this season.
Tingle said games in the playoffs are usually tighter, which makes defense and goaltending all that more important.
Luckily for the Indians, they have one of the best in junior Brian Baker, who led Class AAA with a .917 save percentage.
He was also in goal when the Indians lost to Bethel Park last season.
"Brian's been great for us," Recktenwald said. "When he's on his game, everyone knows it because he doesn't let anything past him.
"And after last year, he wants to get back."hsother