Peters Township hockey coach Rick Tingle says there is only one group that talks about his team losing in the Penguins Cup championship the past three seasons ... and it isn't his players.
"The media are the only people who talk about it," Tingle said. "The vast majority of our players have only played in one. And they worked their butts off to get there.
"I think if you gave the same option -- to play in the championship game and lose or not ever play in the championship game -- they'd all say they want to play in the game."
It is quite a feat that Peters Township has made three consecutive title games, the past two coming in Class AAA after the team moved up from Class AA. Tingle said he wanted his team to make the move because the competition across the entire league was better, and that has showed this year.
Peters Township leads Class AAA with a 7-1 record after knocking off Mt. Lebanon, 4-3, on Tuesday.
"We go into each game not knowing what the outcome will be," said senior goaltender Brian Baker, a four-year starter.
Tingle enjoys that because he said his lessons would fall on deaf ears if the Indians were blowing everyone out.
"A blowout is no good for anyone," Tingle said. "When you blow a team out, those 15-year-olds think they have everything figured out. They're not listening to their coach.
"But when you win close games, or when you lose games, you have a much more captive audience. Last year, we started out [4-4] and we had a very captive audience."
The Indians had a very young team last season, especially on defense. But Tingle helped mold the team quickly, and the Indians went on to win 16 consecutive games before losing to North Allegheny in the Penguins Cup final.
Peters Township had to replace just four seniors from last season, and what was an area of concern last season, the defensive corps, has become a strength this season.
"They have our system down pat now," Baker said. "They've all gotten much better this year."
The elder statesman of the defense is senior Joey Kittelberger, the team's captain. Tingle said he has easily transitioned into the leader of not just the defensemen, but the entire squad.
Kittelberger is joined on the blue line by a bunch of players who took some lumps as freshmen and sophomores last season -- Max Boss, Chad Wyatt, Carter Ekberg, Zach Gielarowski and Ben Mountain -- but have come back and helped Peters Township hold opponents to 18 goals in its first eight games.
"They had some challenges at times last season," Tingle said. "They had tough games, sometimes with everyone watching. But they've stepped up this season."
Of course, the defense is helped by having stellar goaltending behind it. Baker was second in Class AAA last season in save percentage, and has stopped an even higher percentage of shots in the early part of this season.
But Baker's backups, senior Jesse Borne and sophomore Tony Lejeune, have also done the job. The duo is a combined 4-0 and has stopped 101 of 110 shots (.918 percentage) through the team's first eight games.
"[Borne and Lejeune] have earned the right to play," Tingle said.
The defense and goaltending have had to be stellar, as the Indians have had trouble scoring goals so far this season.
Peters Township scored a league-best 123 goals last season. But the second-leading scorer in Class AAA, Trevor Recktenwald (28 goals, 39 assists in 2012-13), graduated, and the team is having trouble replacing his production.
"Trevor is a big loss," Tingle said. "We're going to spread the scoring out among everyone. We're looking to go four lines deep."
Adam Alavi played with Recktenwald and Alex DeBolt (17 goals, 33 assists) last season, scoring 51 points. But Alavi is the only remaining player from that line and is shouldering the scoring load so far with a team-best seven goals and 12 points.
But Alavi hasn't gotten a chance to get any continuity with his linemates because Tingle has had to mix and match pairings due to various injuries.
"We've had so many injuries," Tingle said. "We've had no consistency. We are nowhere near set on our lines. They change every game."