Hockey Playoffs: Mars senior hunts fourth title in a row

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Nick Blaney is back "four" more.

The team captain on the three-time defending PIHL Class A champion Mars hockey team, he could tie a record that has been matched before but can never be broken.

The only player left from the Planets' 2009 Penguins Cup winners, Blaney can become a four-time champion.

"That would be kind of cool," said Blaney, a center who's the top goal-scorer on the team. "It'd be awesome, but I'm just lucky to have been on each of these teams. There are so many coaches and players who have been a part of the past four years and were responsible for the championships."

Mars is once again near the top of the short list of favorites for the team that will be presented with the Penguins Cup at the Consol Energy Center March 24. The champions in all three classes will be decided that day, and the playoffs on the road to Consol begin Monday.

Mars has gone 88-7 in the past four seasons. But the Planets enter these playoffs arguably as vulnerable as they have been during any point of their dynastic run.

Mars finished behind Quaker Valley (17-1-1) in the Section 2 standings and lost to the Quakers, 7-0, two and a half weeks ago after beating them in November. Led by junior Ryan Dickson, No. 1 seed Quaker Valley is unbeaten in its past 17 games.

"We had high expectations at the beginning of the year, and we have high expectations now," Quakers coach Kevin Quinn said.

Mars surely does, too, despite arguably entering the postseason not being the favorite for the first time in a while.

This season, Mars has lost to Westmont Hilltop in addition to Quaker Valley. The Quakers scored more goals and allowed less than the Planets did during the regular season.

"Our team is confident," Mars coach Steve Meyers said. "There are plenty of teams in single-A capable of making a run, and I'm sure they're confident, too."

Reigning finalist Hampton (12-4-2), Kittanning (13-5-1) and Serra Catholic (12-5-2) are among the other top contenders.

The regular season ends with two games tonight. The schedule for first-round games will be announced this weekend.

Here are some of the contenders and storylines in the other two classes:

Class AAA

Penn-Trafford (19-2-1) spent much of the season trying to prove it was for real. A late-season victory against Canon-McMillan did that. It gave the Warriors the No. 1 seed and dropped the two-time reigning finalist Big Macs (19-3) to No. 2.

Penn-Trafford has the classification's top two scorers in Dan Maier and Conlan Sodrosky. Peters Township has its best statistical goalie in Brian Baker. The No. 5 seed Indians (14-5-2) played in the Class AA title game last season.

No. 3 seed North Allegheny (16-5-1) and No. 4 Mt. Lebanon (15-6-1) each lost their final regular-season games, but No. 6 Bethel Park (14-7-1) has won 11 in a row. .

"No question, Bethel Park is the hottest team in the league right now," Canon-McMillan coach Yuri Krivokhija said.

Defending champion Upper St. Clair (11-9-2) lost its coach and much of its roster to graduation. But after a slow start, the No. 8 seed Panthers enter the playoffs on a 7-3-1 run.

Class AA

West Allegheny established itself as the team to beat with a 4-1 win against defending state champion Bishop Canevin (15-5-1) Tuesday. Led by Jason Kumpfmiller's five shutouts, the No. 1-seeded Indians (18-3) have won 16 of their past 17.

Chartiers Valley (17-4) earned the No. 2 seed and is riding a nine-game winning streak. Colts senior Justin Sabilla had 53 goals heading into the regular-season finale Wednesday.

"Our goal is to win the Penguins Cup," Sabilla said. "It's simple -- but that's our goal."

Latrobe has won three of the past four state titles and is seeded No. 5. Watch out for No. 4 Erie Cathedral Prep (15-5-1), which has won five in a row, including a victory against West Allegheny.



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