The one word that constantly is being talked about among PIHL Class AAA coaches and players this season is parity.
"There's not four or five dominant teams this year like there usually is," Canon-McMillan senior J.D. Oddi said. "Anyone can beat anyone on any given night."
The proof is in the pudding -- or at least on the ice. Peters Township (8-1-0) is at the top of the overall standings with 16 points, while defending state champion North Allegheny (7-2-1) is in second with 15 and Penn-Trafford (7-3) has 14 points. But after that, there are 10 teams between seven and 12 points.
And even the teams at the bottom of the standings such as Fox Chapel, which is only 2-9 in its first-year back after a one-year hiatus, defeated Central Catholic (5-5), 8-5, last week.
"You look at some of the games -- us and Seneca Valley, us and Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley and Pine-Richland and a lot of Bethel Park's games -- and they're all close," North Allegheny coach Jim Black said. "And then you see Fox Chapel beat Central Catholic, and Central Catholic has beaten some very good teams this year. So on any given night, anyone can beat anyone.
"I'm excited for the second half and it should be an interesting playoffs. This year, more than any other year I can remember, it is kind of wide open."
Part of the reason for the parity is that some of the teams that have struggled recently have greatly improved. Butler, which won just one game in the 2011-12 season, won 10 last season and is 6-5 this season. Seneca Valley won a combined five games in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but won 14 last season and is 5-5 this season. Penn-Trafford won three games last season but is currently leading Section 3.
Also, Pine-Richland (5-5), the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup runner-up, has moved up to Class AAA this season.
Another factor is that many teams in the league are relying a lot on youth.
"I'd have to look back, but the 1994 birth class was very talented and there was a little bit of a dropoff in terms of numbers in the next few classes," Black said. "I think a lot of it had to do with the transition from the Lemieux era to the Crosby era. So for those few years in between, not as many kids were playing and now there aren't many seniors on some of these rosters. A lot of teams are relying on a few seniors sprinkled in with a lot of young players."
And with youth comes inconsistency, which as Black said, could make for an interesting postseason.
Falcons' Clark busy in net
At 0-11, Connellsville isn't at the top of many leader boards this season. But Falcons' goalie Thomas Clark is blowing the competition away in one statistic -- saves.
The senior netminder has stopped 640 shots, which is 231 more than his closest competitor in any class in the PIHL. He has faced at least 52 shots in every game this season, including 108 in a Dec. 16 game against Indiana. He stopped 97 of the shots against the Little Indians and currently owns an .898 save percentage.
"Sometimes we have to call a time-out just to get him some rest," Connellsville first-year coach Josh Snyder said.
The Falcons have a young, inexperienced team, with half of their 10 skaters in their first year, according to Snyder.
Hilltoppers coach hits milestone
Westmont Hilltop coach Art McQuillan won his 500th game last Friday when his Hilltoppers defeated South Park, 5-0.
McQuillan has coached at Westmont Hilltop since 1987, winning a Penguins Cup in 2003.
This season, the Hilltoppers are 6-3-2 and their 14 points put them in third place overall in PIHL Class A.