The three Western Pennsylvania teams heading to the Philadelphia suburbs for tomorrow's Pennsylvania Cup state high school hockey championships are fresh from capturing PIHL Penguins Cup titles as top seeds in their respective classifications earlier this week at Mellon Arena.
Now those three teams will face the Flyers Cup winners from the eastern side of the state.
But having been the teams to beat in the Penguins Cup playoffs won't necessarily mean that Shaler (Class AAA), Latrobe (Class AA) or Mars (Class A) will be the favorites in games to be played at the Ice Line Arena in West Chester.
"Nobody on this team is really thinking of us in that way at all," Mars coach Steve Meyers said. "We were the first seed [for the Penguins Cup], but nobody thought about it that way. We just had to do it game by game, and we came out on top. That's a testament to the guys in the room. They were phenomenal all year, and that's the same mindset we're taking now."
Mars will play Bayard Rustin at 11 a.m. tomorrow. Latrobe follows against Council Rock South at 1:30 p.m., and the finale is Shaler vs. La Salle at 4.
One thing for certain about Shaler's attitude when it comes to La Salle: The Explorers won't be able to sneak up on Shaler as they did on Pine-Richland in the state title game last season.
La Salle rolled over previously undefeated Pine-Richland, 9-1, in last season's Class AAA championship in Johnstown. This season, the Explorers (25-9-5) were the No. 1 seed for the Flyers Cup playoffs and outscored three opponents, 15-3. They are 15-0-4 against teams from Pennsylvania this season.
"I haven't seen much of them this year, but we obviously know they're a pretty good team," said Shaler coach Curt Hetz, whose team is playing in its first state championship game. "But you know what? I've got a pretty good team, too. We'll go down there, do the best we can, and if they're that good that they can beat us, I guess they'll beat us. But we'll be ready."
As the only undefeated team left in the state and the defending state champion, Latrobe would seem be the best bet among the western teams to win a title this weekend. But the Wildcats were there in Johnstown last season to watch when Pine-Richland was trying to become the 13th team in the state to go through a season undefeated but failed.
"I think the players realize what happened to Pine-Richland, but you know you're going to face a very good team when you get to the ultimate game of the season," Latrobe coach Dan Ridder said. "These guys have plenty of focus. I think they'll be fully prepared."
Latrobe (25-0) is a deep and senior-laden team that is looking to become only the fifth team from Western Pennsylvania to win consecutive state titles.
"As many seniors as there are, all of us have been working hard all season for this," said Latrobe senior forward Tyler Berger. "It would be great to go out with a win to win the state championship two years in a row."
Council Rock South (19-5-1) was the No. 4 seed in the Flyers Cup playoffs, beating a North Penn team in the championship game at the Spectrum that it had lost to twice previously.
Either Mars (23-1) or Bayard Rustin (23-2) will lose for the first time in calendar year 2009 tomorrow. The Planets haven't lost since a 6-3 defeat Nov. 6 to Serra, and the Knights' most recent loss was Nov. 26 to Downingtown East.
But both teams survived one-goal squeakers in their championship games. Bayard Rustin needed overtime to beat Hershey, 4-3, for the Flyers Cup. Mars held off a late charge by Bishop McCort to win the Penguins Cup, 3-2.
"We were real confident going into [McCort] game, and we kind of got knocked back to earth," Meyers said. "We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of stuff to perfect before Saturday."